Children get a taste for cooking at a younger age
Whether it's chopping, stirring, cracking an egg or simply tasting, kids love "helping" in the kitchen. And it seems today's parents are allowing them to "help" much younger than their own parents allowed them. While most children's parents learnt to cook at an average age of 10, new research suggests many children are now learning from the age of six, trying everything from cooking an omelette, chopping an onion to making a white sauce.
Research by BBC Good Food magazine also found that only 40 per cent of current parents think their cooking skills were better than their children's at the same age, and blame this on their own parents being less relaxed about letting them in the kitchen.
BBC Good Food magazine editor Gillian Carter explains: "It's easy to forget that for years home-cooking was the preserve of the adult woman of the household, and often children were shooed out of the kitchen."
However, half of today's parents view cooking as an essential life skill, with three quarters (of those questioned) saying it also means they spend quality time with their children.
"Today cooking, inspired in part by television, is seen as an opportunity to spend time together doing something fun and practical," adds Carter.
Children's cookery expert Annabel Karmel, who has just written the new book Kids in the Kitchen, says children can start mixing food, rolling out dough and cutting out pastry shapes from as young as three years.
"It's like them using Play-Doh, except they don't eat that," she says.
"It's a great way of bonding, and a fantastic way of learning, by counting and understanding time, in a fun way. It should always be fun."
Because children have such a short attention span, she says parents should encourage them to make things that take no more than half an hour from start to finish, like Rice Krispie cakes, cupcakes or wraps. She also points out that if children are fussy eaters, cooking has the added benefit of getting them interested in food they might not otherwise have eaten.
While parents, of course, need to be careful when children are using knives, Karmel says children as young as six or seven can be taught to use such utensils safely.
"If you don't teach children to use knives, then one day they'll use one without any instruction and they'll cut themselves. Children aged six or seven are able to use sharp knives, as long as they're taught to use them properly and they're responsible. It's an important part of cooking. If you wrap them in cotton wool, one day they're going to experiment, and that's much more dangerous."
She suggests children initially try simple cookery like grating cheese, making scrambled eggs, cracking eggs, using a sieve, kneading dough, squeezing oranges and whisking egg whites.
"They could use the egg whites to make a meringue, or the orange juice to make a smoothie," she says.
Other suggestions include rubbing butter and flour together to make a crumble, crushing biscuits in a plastic bag to make a cheesecake base, and making their own tomato sauce for pasta, or their own pizzas.
Another idea is to get kids to make chicken nuggets, by dipping chicken pieces in egg and flour and then in a mixture of crushed Rice Krispies and grated parmesan cheese, and then frying them.
In the BBC Good Food magazine survey, 16 per cent of parents felt the reason their generation learned to cook later was because cooking was previously regarded as a girl's task. However, Karmel says boys should be taught to cook just as much as girls – after all, many celebrity chefs are male and their TV shows are inspiring youngsters to cook.
"The days when it was just girls in the kitchen have gone – there are so many male chefs now," says Karmel.
"If you get a boy to cook something they really like to eat, like a chocolate brownie, they'll get engaged with cooking."
She suggests that children take over the kitchen for a day, and make a meal for the family, pointing out that children love to be part of the adult world.
Another idea is cooking birthday parties, where children make all the party food, like pizzas, during the party.
"These things are good fun – just make them part of everyday life," says Karmel.
"It's a life skill they need – otherwise when they leave home they'll be reliant on junk food and have a really bad diet. It will impact on their health if they can't cook."
And you never know, if they do learn to cook, they could be the next Jamie Oliver. He started cooking at a young age in his parents' pub, and told BBC Good Food magazine: "My dad put me on the veg section – I was peeling first, then later chopping when I was safe with knives.
"These days, my kids love cooking, especially the two older girls. We're always making bread and cakes together, and they now do all the salad dressings."
Kids in the Kitchen is part of a new Annabel Karmel's Favourites book series launching in Sainsbury's in August, priced £4.99 for two books. For more information, visit www.annabelkarmel.com