Cooking with kids can be a lot of fun, and is also great for their development, confidence and encouraging a positive attitude towards food. However, beyond making the odd biscuit or fairy cake, many parents and carers don't tend to include children in everyday cooking.
I think many people don't cook with children, particularly the very young, because of fear (of mess, safety and not having enough time), a lack of confidence (either about their own cooking abilities or how much the child is capable of), and a lack of recipes that are genuinely do-able by children.
Tickle Fingers is about giving adults and children the confidence, inspiration and tools to give it a try.
Cooking with toddlers
There are special considerations when cooking with very young children (aged 1 to 4). Toddlers cannot cook safely at the hob. They cannot safely use sharp knives or hand graters. They have short attention spans. They like to do everything themselves. They love to lick their fingers so shouldn't handle things like raw meat. And they have limited strength and dexterity. Tickle Fingers' resources take these things into account and make it easy to incorporate cooking with a toddler into daily routines.
Given the right recipes and approach, I am always struck at how much even an 18 month old can do and how much they get from it. Cooking incorporates so many things that young children love: getting messy, transforming things, moving things, stacking, bashing, painting etc... And I am convinced there are particular benefits to starting young like improving focus and dexterity and an increased willingness to try new foods at an age when they are still forming their attitude to eating. My personal favourite is that, instead of desperately trying to get them out of the way while preparing a meal, you can spend quality time doing something fun. There are downsides (like the mess and taking longer) but for me the plus sides far outweigh a bit of sweeping up and a few extra minutes.
I am a Mum and enthusiastic home cook, rather than a trained professional. I simply wanted my own children to grow up enjoying and exploring real food, and to feel involved in everyday food preparation. When I started cooking with my one year old, I found that many children’s cookbooks either involved a lot of adult input, or only contained fun snacks or children's food. I wanted her to feel like she'd made it herself and I wanted be able to serve what she cooked as meals for all of us. When I struggled to find enough recipes to fit this brief, I began writing my own for her.
As I watched her sense of achievement, dexterity, focus and interest in food grow through cooking on a regular basis, I began sharing recipes and my experiences with others. What started as fun with a few friends and the local toddler group has steadily grown. In November 2014, I self-published a cookbook for cooking with toddlers, which was recognised by The Independent in April 2015 as one of the top ten best cookbooks for cooking with children. In 2015, Ebury Publishing commissioned a new, bigger edition, The Tickle Fingers Toddler Cookbook: Hands-on fun in the kitchen for 1 to 4s (published November 2016) and The Tickle Fingers Kids Cookbook for 4 to 7 year olds will be out 4 July 2019.
I am naturally a no-nonsense cook. I like straight-forward, tasty home cooking using common, good value ingredients. If I have to hunt for an ingredient in an obscure supermarket aisle or spend hours preparing a dish, it just doesn't happen. This simple approach suits cooking with children and means I have found it fairly easy to include them. I love that they are doing something educational and fun, while also making themselves useful getting food on the table. And now that I've seen how it creates a fun, relaxed atmosphere around food and eating, there's no going back!
Tickle Fingers' Ethos
Keep it simple.
Keep it fun.
Better they’ve done it themselves than it be perfect.
illustrations copyright jwoolmer