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Teaching my kids to cook

Teaching my kids to cook

Woman in progress teaching my kids to cook knife skills children

We’re a couple of weeks into the summer holidays now.  There are 5 weeks to go.  JOY.  Amongst playdates, attempts to do reading, sweeping up glitter and Forth Bridge-like tidying up ), I’ve also started to teach my two boys to cook.

I love cooking, and the boys are starting to show an interest in what I’m up to.  Don’t get me wrong, they’ll also learn a huge amount about how to complete the delicate operation of transferring fishfingers and oven chips from freezer to oven, how to stir butter and cheese into some pasta and open a pot of hummus.  But occasionally, when I’m feeling up to it, I also cook them something.  And I’ve decided that the holidays are an opportunity to teach them a few things.  

When I was a teenager I loved to cook, and even prepared meals for my parents (including a few dinner party courses).  This, I believe the young folk call it, is #goals.

Teaching my kids to cook week 1: Special Noodles

Inspired by Wagamamas noodles, and a good way to get some vegetables in (although as you’ll notice from the pic at the bottom of the page, this holds no sway with my daughter).  

Time taken: 15 mins (depending on time taken to chop stuff)

Parental anxiety level: medium (chopping, stirring hot stuff).  My boys are six, and developing their knife skills - but a huge amount of oversight and “Careful!”s went on.  The fingers survived.  Your decision about how much you let yours do.  Some tips below on how to teach your children knife skills.

Ingredients

What we had in - but whatever you have around works in this

What we had in - but whatever you have around works in this

Serves 3 hungry children

2 nests of egg noodles or spaghetti (1 noodle ‘nest’ serves 1 and a half children with a healthy appetite) 
1 tsp sesame oil
Vegetables - what you have around works - Peppers, mini sweetcorn, broccoli, carrots, peas, beans, even pak choi are all good) - 3 child-sized handfuls in all
1 onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp ground nut oil 
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp Ketchup manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce - the word sweet is crucial here)
1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine (optional - but any alcohol will boil off!) 

Method

Chop your onion and grate/crush the garlic and put to one side (I do the onion - the boys do the garlic).  Then chop up the vegetables into small pieces (doesn’t have to be tiny, and if the children are doing it, they get what they get). 

Lots of chopping later

Lots of chopping later

Whilst this is going on (if you can turn away for a moment) pop your noodles/spaghetti into some boiling water and cook as per the packet instructions.  When they’re cooked, drain and stir through the sesame oil on them to stop them sticking together.

Heat the groundnut oil (I don’t tend to do this at a furious heat that traditional stir-fry recipes recommend - we stick to a medium low heat which takes longer to cook, but keeps it a little bit safer).  Add the onion and garlic and stir for 3 minutes or so.  Add your vegetables (and if you want to add some cooked chicken or ham to this then that’s also delicious) and stir continuously for a couple of minutes.  Add the various sauces and stir occasionally for another 3-4 minutes until your veg is softening but still got some crunch.  Add the noodles and stir through till mixed.

Stirring gently (handle to one side)

Stirring gently (handle to one side)

Serve.  (Disclaimer: this does not preclude you having to nag them to eat it)

As only you know what your child is able to do without fear of accident I can’t recommend what you should and shouldn’t let your child do.  You could just let them mix the sauces together in a separate bowl.  They could help you choose what goes into it in what order.  Things I let mine do: chopping, mincing the garlic, stirring the stuff in the frying pan, pouring in ingredients into the pans with exception of the onion).  Things I don’t let them do: chop the onion, add the onion and garlic to the hot oil (risk of splash) serve stuff, and I also interrupt them continually throughout if they look like they’re going to go astray.  

13 tips for teaching your children knife skills

Learning how to use a knife safely is a fundamental part of learning to cook.  It’s also one of the reasons that I was tempted to shy away from teaching them because of the risk of cut-fingers.   But in the end I took the plunge.  So far so good.

Moving very, very slowly

Moving very, very slowly

  • Obvious one first - never without supervision. 
  • They need to be at the right height - above the work surface but not miles above, and not cutting with their hands above their heads - they need to see what they’re doing.  Get the right stool to make a safe and comfortable position.
  • Curving their fingers away from the knife is crucial.  The description ‘dinosaur claw’ works for me.  
  • They need to hold the knife in one hand, what they’re cutting in another - mine didn’t go for this approach instinctively.  They can also just cut with one hand and keep the other out of the way - but stuff tends to fly around more and then they swing around (knife in hand) to pick it up - which isn’t a better option.
  • A blunt knife doesn’t reduce the risk - it’s far more likely to slip and cause an accident.
  • Encourage them to move slowly at all times.
  • Get them to keep the tip of the knife on the cutting board at all times, and just move the handle up and down to create the chopping movement - a rocking motion.  They don’t need to be stabbing or sawing at anything.
  • If it’s a round item, cut it in half for them so it has a stable base
  • I don’t let mine fetch or carry the knives (yet) - I get it all set up for them before we get started.
  • A big chopping board is better so they have room to manoeuvre.
  • Talk to them about what the dangers are.  
  • Get them to practice on playdough, or cheese with a normal knife (or plastic one) until you feel comfortable. 
  • Stay calm.
  • Prepare a gin and tonic for yourself for afterwards 
Lots of concentration

Lots of concentration

Stirring is the best bit

Stirring is the best bit

The end result.  One with no veg. 

The end result.  One with no veg. 

Books to read when you're short on time

Books to read when you're short on time

Woman in Progress: Erena Bordon Sanchez, founder The Natashas Project

Woman in Progress: Erena Bordon Sanchez, founder The Natashas Project