No kid­ding – they’re cook­ing

Chil­dren may well pre­fer food they pre­pare them­selves, dis­cov­ers Lois Rogers

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Family & Education -

Amid an­i­mated dis­cus­sion of the mer­its of James Bonds past and present, nine-year-old Anna Tay­lor is cut­ting car­rot rib­bons to gar­nish her tuna. Camp­bell Gray, also nine, is dis­sect­ing a gi­ant but­ter­nut squash for roast­ing.

At a nearby ta­ble, eight year-old Frankie Os­borne is guard­ing the bowl in which he has been whisk­ing the in­gre­di­ents of a choco­late sponge pud­ding – in the vain hope he might be al­lowed to lick it out. Next to him, two 10-year-olds get to grips with the en­joy­able task of knead­ing dough.

The group are par­tic­i­pants in a chil­dren’s din­ner party or­gan­ised by 50-year-old Sarah Laing, a home eco­nomics teacher who of­fers a novel kind of birth­day ex­pe­ri­ence. Fussy chil­dren are more likely to en­joy good food if they pre­pare it them­selves, she says.

The par­ties are run ei­ther in her farm­house kitchen near Wells, in Som­er­set, or in the child’s home. Up to 10 young cooks can then pitch in with a joint ef­fort where they each take charge of the prepa­ra­tion of one com­po­nent of the meal.

Bowl-lick­ing, fin­ger-lick­ing and any other sort of in­terim test­ing of in­gre­di­ents are strictly banned, but the four boys and four girls throw them­selves into the ex­er­cise with un­re­strained glee, rev­el­ling in the raw in­gre­di­ents and the ex­cit­ing smells as their cre­ations are placed in the oven.

Anna is there with Daisy, her elder sis­ter, and says she had a din­ner party for her 11th birth­day and has car­ried on cook­ing ever since. It was not a par­tic­u­larly so­phis­ti­cated af­fair. The 10 guests de­cided to aban­don the pud­ding course and make pep­per­mint creams in­stead. “It was re­ally fun,” says Anna. “Ev­ery­one ate loads of them.”

She is now al­lowed a free run of the kitchen. “My mum and dad like me mak­ing things to eat be­cause then they don’t have to do it them­selves. They don’t make cakes, but I do. My favourite is Vic­to­ria sponge. My grand­par­ents come round spe­cially to eat it.”

Laing started her busi­ness af­ter 26 years of teach­ing cook­ery in schools. “If they have pre­pared the food them­selves, chil­dren will eat all kinds of things they would re­ject at home. I know from par­ents’ feed­back that their chil­dren go on to be much more ad­ven­tur­ous.”

Par­ents would like to do more cook­ing with their chil­dren, she says, but it takes time and makes a mess. “It’s strange how some par­ents will spend an hour or so tak­ing their chil­dren swim­ming but say they are too busy to cook with them.” Par­ents also worry about safety in the kitchen, but Laing says that chil­dren from the age of eight should be able to use knives as long as they are taught prop­erly.

For this birth­day party, the 10 chil­dren are mak­ing a three­course meal of fried tuna gou­jons, chicken casse­role and roasted veg­eta­bles, and choco­late pud­ding with a cream and yo­gurt sauce. The drink is a home-made fruit spritzer.

There are also home-made rolls, which van­ish as soon as they hit the ta­ble, but then things start to go wrong. “I am def­i­nitely not eat­ing that,” says one of the guests rather rudely. “Nor am I,” shrieks an­other. “I said I wouldn’t eat it when you were cook­ing it.” The oth­ers merely look grim, as Anna doggedly ar­ranges her tuna gou­jons on plates.

Mean­while, con­ver­sa­tion around the ta­ble turns to ex­actly how old ev­ery­one is, in a marked de­par­ture from adult din­ner-party eti­quette.

The chil­dren are so en­grossed in the dis­cus­sion of ev­ery­one’s rel­a­tive ages that they in­ad­ver­tently eat all the tuna. Most of them even eat the car­rot gar­nish. By mis­take, ob­vi­ously. Af­ter­wards they grudg­ingly ad­mit it was good.

“Cook­ing is some­thing you don’t do at home be­cause mostly peo­ple don’t have time to show you,” one of the young guests ob­serves sadly, while gob­bling up his plate­ful of the pre­vi­ously re­jected tuna with its creamy, herby sauce.

Since last sum­mer, when she launched her busi­ness, Laing, a mother-of-three, has been over­whelmed by de­mand and says that it is not too late to res­cue the taste buds of chil­dren weaned on a diet of pizza and pasta.

She now of­fers an on­line chil­dren’s cook­ery club, recipes with pod­casts of in­struc­tions, and de­tails of school-hol­i­day cook­ery work­shops and par­ties.

“I hope I am pass­ing on to them some of my en­thu­si­asm for some­thing which is not only es­sen­tial to a de­cent life,” she says, “but also re­ally good fun.”

Cookwise par­ties (01749 890017; cost £12.50 per child.

Lit­tle chefs: Sarah Laing’s young re­cruits at work and giv­ing each other point­ers

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