How to cook with your preschooler: we try out Cook By Colours
Got a preschooler who wants to run the show in your kitchen? We share our favourite picture-based cookbooks, and road-test Cook By Colours, a book for the tiniest chefs.
Photo credit: Steve Tan and Ting Lin, 2015. All rights reserved.
Do you remember the first time you tried cooking with a small child? Chances are good that they wanted to do everything by themselves, but needed some help when it came to reading the recipe, not to mention measuring out ingredients. But what if there was a way for your 3-year-old to be head chef...without a struggle?
For kids who can handle measuring, but have trouble reading a standard recipe, there are several great picture-based children’s cookbooks out there—try Kids Cooking, Alice Waters' Fanny at Chez Panisse or Mollie Katzen’s Pretend Soup. But for kids who are newer to gauging ingredients, there’s Cook By Colours, a picture-based book that comes with its own set of measuring cups. Curious to see how it—er—measured up in the kitchen, we asked our brave volunteer parent, Ting Lin, to talk to us about road-testing a recipe with her two little ones. And while her family got busy in the kitchen, we talked to Brent Currie, co-founder and author of Cook By Colours.
“We were inspired to create Cook By Colours because we couldn't find anything on the market suitable for our 3-year-old daughter at the time,” Brent told us. “Lots of the memories that my wife and I have from our childhood involve time in the kitchen with our parents and grandparents, and we wanted our children to grow up with that same love for the kitchen. We wanted to capture their interest early, but lots of cookbooks that were geared towards kids still required a very large involvement from the parents. We found that using these cookbooks, we often ended up on auto-pilot, taking over too much of the responsibility and leaving our little one to stand on a chair watching while we prepared the dish. We came up with the idea to colour-code the measuring cups and spoons so we could be more hands-off and allow our daughter to take the lead role in the kitchen. It was amazing to see how self-sufficient she became after doing a recipe just a couple times.”
To see how this approach worked for other people’s kids, we asked Ting to share her experiences.
Better Together: Before we get started, tell us about your kids: had you tried preparing a meal with them before?
Ting Lin: I've had the kids in the kitchen before to help with food preparations. Mason (our 3-and-a-half-year-old) would help daddy with breakfast often since he could take instruction at about age 1-and-a-half. Taylor (our 1-and-a-half-year-old) has only helped with baked goods—pouring, mixing—but she still needs lots of reminders to stop tasting the flour. Neither can read yet.
BT: Tell us about trying out Cook by Colours—how did you explain it to them?
TL: When we first got our Cook by Colours kit, I showed it to Mason, who was eager to try it. I showed him how the pictures show us what ingredients we should use and how the colours correspond to the different coloured cups and spoons. Mason browsed through each recipe and would proudly say, "This is how we make (item), mommy, I'm going to show you how to do it," and go through the steps by pointing and asking me, "What [ingredient] is this?" He would point to the colours and which spoon we would use. Taylor, at first sight of the kit, dove into the spoons and cups immediately and we just asked her to name the colours.
BT: What did they cook, and how did it go?
TL: The first time I had both kids in the kitchen with the cookbook we made the Beluga Pancakes. I propped up the book, gathered all the ingredients, and put the kids on opposite ends of the table. It was crazy with both kids but what helped was that I had Mason do the real thing, and gave Taylor her own bowl and the spoons we weren't using, and gave her the same ingredients as we went along so she could still pour and mix (and make a huge mess) to her heart's content. Mason had used the book on prior occasions, so he recognized the images and was able to point out which ingredient to get him next. As for his baby sister, I just had her point to different colours in the book so she would get a sense of why it's there. She loved mimicking the way Mason referred to the book and gave instructions. Mason needed tips on measuring the ingredients and mixing without spilling much, and he didn't hesitate to immediately impart that wisdom to his baby sister. Both kids were really proud that they made breakfast together.
BT: Would you try cooking this way again? What are you going to make next time?
TL: I would definitely continue cooking with the kids, although at their current age I prefer to cook with them at separate times. Once Taylor is older it would be lovely to have them cooking together and working on sharing the different roles and steps to a recipe. I think we will try a main course from the cookbook next time.
Looking for more kid-friendly cookbooks? We’ve rounded them up for you here—and if you have one we’ve missed, please share it on our Facebook or Twitter feeds.