While it’s hard to think of anyone who’s found the past ten months easy, the gulf between those showing off their new sourdough skills online and those who suddenly find themselves expected to homeschool, hold down a job and provide three meals a day for the whole family feels particularly unfair. Even if you’re fortunate enough to be financially secure, it’s hard – and I know, for some, the idea of cooking with your children when you sometimes barely have time to pour them a bowl of cereal is laughable. Believe me, I feel for you. You’re doing the best you can. Hang in there.
For those parents or carers who haven’t already turned the page with a derisive snort, however, there might be merit in occasionally letting kids loose in the kitchen. It’s no surprise they’re far more likely to eat food they’ve had a sticky hand in themselves – whether it’s pressing the button on the blender for a smoothie, grating the cheese for frying-pan quesadillas or building “pizzas” on toasted flatbreads or crumpets – which is some compensation for the inevitable extra clearing up required afterwards. One friend tells me her daughter loves writing out menus and setting the table with great ceremony: “At lunch she drank Appletiser out of a champagne flute… yesterday it was milk out of a martini glass.”
But cooking together isn’t just about getting to lick the bowl (though there is that), or even about teaching basic life skills such as how to peel an onion or scramble an egg. It involves numbers in the weighing and measuring, science in the method, creativity in talking about new tastes and textures, and even geography and history: the excellent CBeebies series My World Kitchen is a great place to start if you’re looking for inspiration.
While a child who can make their own sandwiches is worth their weight in cheese and pickle, here are a few culinary projects that may take a bit more time, but can be fun for everyone involved. (You’ll note I say can, but don’t blame me if someone throws a wobbly because they weren’t allowed to turn the dials on the oven.)
Simplest of all: banana ice cream. Peel a ripe banana, cut it into chunks and freeze those chunks, preferably in a single layer, for a couple of hours. Once they’re fairly solid, use a blender or a sturdy fork to mash them into a creamy paste (if you’re using a fork, you may want to let them defrost slightly first to make life easier), beating in a dash of milk if you’d like soft serve. Eat immediately, or stir in chocolate chips, peanut butter or anything else the chef thinks might be nice – though maybe not the dog biscuits my god-daughter suggested.
Bread may seem ambitious at any age, but soda bread or scones are as easy as mixing together a few ingredients and sticking them in the oven; you don’t even need a tin, because shaping, crossing and pricking the corners of the loaf to let the fairies out (a good Irish tradition) are the fun parts. If you happen to have a clean jar and some double cream, you can even make butter to go with it while it’s baking. And a packet of crisps and some eggs can quickly turn into a cheat’s Spanish omelette.
Lastly, I never fail to thrill at the drama of making cinder toffee, or honeycomb. Definitely something that requires careful grown-up supervision… yet still probably safer than popping to the shops for a Crunchie right now. Good luck.
This article appears in the 20 Jan 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Biden's Burden