National Cake Week is upon us and continuing our @Rub-a-Dub-Dub, Thanks for the Grub!’ theme we have Jenny McIlveen, a mum of two (and big sister to Phil) and keen baker, guest posting for us.
Here, Jenny tells us all about why she loves to bake with her kids and shares a simple recipe for the non-natural parenting bakers amongst us to help us get started.
Can I Be Bothered? by Jenny McIlveen
Can I be bothered with the faff of getting out the ingredients and equipment and then the mess of clearing up? Baking with your children often takes far greater motivation than other activities, but hopefully this article will convince you of the worth and value of cooking with your children that is far more important and successful than the end product!
As a young child, I don’t remember much involvement in baking, as one of four with a working mum who had far more than her fair share to juggle, baking more than a fairy cake was not high on the agenda. However, through my teenage years, my Nan would spend time teaching me her recipes and mum would allow me the free reign of the kitchen on the proviso I tidied up! It was at this point I learnt to love baking and it became a way of expressing love for the people around me. As an educator I understand the benefits to child development and want to encourage you to explore this area with your child too.
From an early age, I was determined that my two would become confident and engaged in cooking in our family. The number of academic educational benefits is endless, conceptual maths (time & weight) mathematical calculations (increasing or decreasing quantities,) counting, developing reading and wider language skills, exploring the world and it’s cultures, searching for recipes on technology, artistic flair in presentation, the wow and awe of science as yeast or baking soda do their work, managing the risk of sharp tools and hot ovens… the list goes on. It is a wonderful way of learning through fun…none of the above skills would find their way into a Saturday morning through a text book or worksheet.
When asking my two (6 & 10) what they love about cooking, their answers are varied…for Esther, it’s the excitement of trying something new, in fact her answer was, “…tasting the different textures.” Involving your little one in the process spurs their creativity on and a desire to taste their own work is often far greater than it is to taste the one you’ve been slaving over for ages…for example, Esther hates mince, but had heard her Italian friend talking about meatballs and asked could we make them. She loved the whole process from squishing the meat, to counting we had enough, to the delight of seeing the family enjoying the meal she had prepared. She’s far more adventurous and keen to experiment and always one for licking the spoon!
It’s all about the relationships for Esther, it’s often an activity that she asks to do when friends come to play, or when she wants to give something to the people around her, definitely a way to show the love!
Will on the other hand, the eldest, loves the stamina required for mixing! He loves the independence with which he can work around the kitchen now, enjoying training his sister and taking responsibility for the dangerous bits! The fact he has developed the perseverance to work through the pain, to create something that gives both himself and others satisfaction, makes it all worthwhile for him. Eating hot banana & chocolate muffins or a bramble cake straight out of the oven is reward enough!
This perhaps, is more important than the academic benefits for me. As an educator, equally important is the fact that children are spiritual beings, (I’m not talking religious here). Part of growing up, is not just academic, but to grow spiritually ~ increasing in ability to relate to themselves, others and the world around them, developing well rounded people. Cooking facilitates this so well. For both my children it has been an opportunity to discover not just amazing food but to forge bonds with the people who share the creative experience with them, discover that they have talents and take delight in presenting their creations, successful and not so and seeing the pleasure it brings, growing with confidence each time.
As I write this, I’m watching the Celebrity Master Chef final with Will, he’s inspired by what they’re cooking and the relationship that each of them have with food…lots of conversation about life are taking place. He may never become a professional chef, that’s not what it’s all about, (the pull of top gear and footy are too strong!) But he’s learning life skills and people skills that all too readily are squashed out of the school timetable and it opens up opportunities where he knows this is his time, he has that 1:1 attention from me that reminds him he’s special, that shared experience creates a safe space for him as he shares what’s important or puzzling to him.
So, what would my advice be…Be bothered! Start simple, jam tarts are a great crowd pleaser; two ingredients and lots of fun! Begin by setting the expectations; that they are involved in the set up and tidy up too, with simple jam tarts this doesn’t feel onerous for them. As they respond to the responsibility increase the complexity and challenge with the recipe and watch them grow in confidence and adventure.
A favourite of ours is flapjack, why not have a go?
6oz Brown Sugar, (white caster would do)
4 generous tbsp syrup
Sultanas / cranberries / pumpkin seeds / choc chips optional to taste
• Melt butter, sugar & syrup together in a pan
• Pour onto oats & mix well
• Transfer into a greased & lined baking tray
• Bake in the oven for approx. 10 minutes or until golden and bubbling.
• Leave to cool (but easiest to slice while warm)
For more great recipes, why not check out another Jen’s page over at Just Average Jen, those sweet banana pots look delicious!