Cooking up ideas
With the heat of summer and the school holidays kicking into full gear, Emily Price takes a look at easy recipes and fun meals that children can make themselves
Cooking is, quite simply, one of the most important life skills with which we can equip young people.
We live in a fast- paced world with convenience eating and fast-food delivery services galore, but there’s still no substitute for having the ability to take raw ingredients and transform them into something delicious and nourishing.
Being able to do this – and we’re talking basics here, nothing fancy – is beneficial in terms of health (both now and in the years ahead), and will also help your children save money in the future and encourage social interaction.
Getting children involved in the kitchen has immediate advantages as well. With weeks of school summer holidays ahead and the humidity rising, cooking is an inexpensive way to while away time indoors.
Ideally , this shouldn’t just mean baking sugar-laden cakes and biscuits. Focus instead on wholesome, healthy, rewarding recipes and you will provide a counter to the idea that cooking is about treats and indulgence. Having fun in the kitchen and experimenting with tasty, simple dishes will convey that cooking is achievable, productive and gratifying.
It will also help to promote a positive attitude towards not just food preparation, but consumption, too. Introducing children to a range of ingredients and processes early on encourages them to eat more widely and develop better habits, and while they may not like everything they try, a new favourite ingredient could well be discovered.
The recipes and ideas that follow are tailored to different ages and are designed to allow young people to be as hands-on as possible, under adult supervision and guidance.
So the next time you’re looking to fill a few empty hours as the inevitable “I’m bored” cries begin to surface, head straight to the kitchen. There may be mess, but it will be worth it.
Pick-and-mix salad (for ages 3 to 5)
This is more of a general idea than a recipe. Rather than presenting young children with a ready-prepared plain salad, offer them an array of different pickand-mix items from which they can make their own salad bowl.
While there’s no actual cooking , this is all about getting children involved in and excited about what they’re eating, and empowering them as they decide what they’re going to try.
The more visually appealing the spread, the more popular it’s likely to be, so include a mix of brightly coloured ingredients. Think about shapes and textures, too. Cut radishes into paper-thin slithers, slice peppers into strips, add crunchy cucumber, soft mini balls of mozzarella and crisp bruschetta or crackers, as well as a dressing or dip, such as the yogurt-based one below. Then leave it to the little ones to build their own creations.
Cucumber yogurt dressing Serves 4
½ cucumber, grated
200g natural or Greek yogurt 1 tbsp olive oil
1. Put the cucumber in a sieve suspended over a bowl. Squeeze out as much water as possible (little children will enjoy doing this). Discard the liquid.
2. Tip the cucumber into a bowl and stir in the yogurt and olive oil. Keep in the fridge until needed.
Easy homemade pizza (ages 6 to 8)
While this recipe requires adult supervision, apart from putting the pizza in and out of the oven, the children can take care of everything else. The raw tomato sauce gives the finished pizza a lovely bright, fresh flavour. Feel free to treat this recipe as a base and add as many toppings as you please.
230g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting 3g easy-blend dried yeast
4 tbsp olive oil
200g ripe cherry or plum tomatoes
½ garlic clove, crushed
Large handful basil leaves
½ tsp caster sugar
2 tbsp tomato puree
125g ball mozzarella 30g Parmesan cheese
1. First, make the pizza base. Mix the flour and yeast together in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and add three tablespoons olive oil and 120ml of lukewarm water. Stir to form a dough, then tip out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for five minutes until smooth. Cover with cling film and leave to rise in a warm place for 30 minutes. 2. While the dough is rising, make the pizza sauce and prepare the toppings. Tear three-quarters of the basil leaves into strips. Put the tomatoes, garlic, torn basil leaves, sugar and remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a large bowl. Use your hands or a potato masher to squeeze the tomatoes until they break down. Place in a sieve suspended over a bowl and set aside.
3. Preheat the oven to 220°C, gas mark 7. Tear the mozzarella into pieces and grate the Parmesan. Line a baking tray with baking parchment.
4. Remove dough from the cling film, place on a lightly floured surface and lightly punch it to knock the air out. Knead briefly, then use a rolling pin to roll it into a rectangle shape approximately 30 centimetres long and 20cm wide.
5. Carefully transfer the dough to the prepared tray and spread with a thin layer of tomato puree, followed by the raw tomato sauce (discard the liquid in the bowl). Add the mozzarella pieces and remaining whole basil leaves and sprinkle the grated Parmesan over the top.
6. Bake in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes, until the base is golden and the cheese melted.
Sticky chicken drumsticks with garlic bread and beetroot and apple coleslaw
The great thing about this recipe is that it puts older children in charge of preparing an entire meal, rather than just parts of it. Garlic bread is cheap to prepare, filling and tastes great, and the honey-mustard glaze can also be used on fish, seafood and even roasted vegetables. If beetroot doesn’t appeal, swap it for grated carrot or red cabbage.
1 large baguette
45g butter, softened
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
10 to 15 basil leaves
4 to 6 chicken drumsticks
3 tbsp olive oil
3½ tbsp runny honey
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp lemon juice
250g shredded beetroot ( buy ready-shredded ones)
4 tbsp chopped mint
2 tbsp apple juice 1. First, prepare the garlic bread. Using a serrated knife, make incisions in the baguette every 2cm or so, being careful not to slice all way through.
2. Mix the butter and garlic. Add a little garlic butter to each of the incisions in the baguette, followed by a basil leaf. Set aside. 3. Preheat the oven to 200°C, gas mark 6. Put the chicken drumsticks in an ovenproof dish and drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and roast in the oven for 25 minutes.
4. Mix the honey, mustard, lemon juice and a tablespoon of olive oil. Once the chicken has been cooking for 25 minutes, ask an adult to remove it from the oven and pour over the honey- mustard mixture. Stir the chicken so that all the pieces are covered with the glaze.
Return the baking dish to the oven and add the garlic bread on a different tray. Cook for another 15 minutes.
5. While the chicken and garlic bread are cooking, make the coleslaw. Put the beetroot in a bowl, add the chopped mint, remaining olive oil and the apple juice.
Mix well with a large spoon. Serve the chicken, garlic bread and coleslaw together.
Clockwise from above, cooking is an inexpensive way for children to while away time indoors during the summer; sticky chicken drumsticks with garlic bread and beetroot and apple coleslaw; and an easy homemade pizza.