I’m not much of a crafty person, but I do love cooking with the kids. It isn’t just that the food you make is so much healthier and cheaper than anything you could buy. Nor is is solely the fact that cooking is an excellent way to teach maths, literacy, science and nutrition all in one yummy hit. Of course, children benefit from cooking for all those reasons, but for me, the real reason I love cooking with my children is because it’s such an elemental moment of closeness as we work together towards shared nourishment: a form of rich and mutual care. I love the mingled look of pride and nurturing as my daughter presents a plate of cookies to her dad and brothers. I love the way my son juts out his chin and stands tall when he’s complimented on the smoothness of his mashed potatoes. I know they’re learning about the joy of good food and the way in which you can create and care all at once. That’s why shows like Junior MasterChef are so good for kids: encouraging them to think about cooking as something that is cool, kid-friendly, fun and creative.
The first cookbook in the Junior MasterChef series is designed to appeal to children. It’s a solid, stitched book that sits open for use next to the stove or kitchen bench, and has flaps on the front and back cover to hold the recipe page. The pages inside are thick, reasonably waterproof, and full of colourful pictures. Each recipe is neatly laid out with ingredients, steps, chef’s tips, and “mix & match” to encourage a little variation. The book contains 90 recipes and is set up in chapters around occasions such as Mother’s Day Brunch (in case my children are reading this, I’d quite like the hotcakes with rhubarb & pear compote, although the home-made toasted muesli with yoghurt and berries would also do nicely), Pasta Night, Cupcake party, Sunday Roast, Ultimate Chocolate, Footy Night, Afternoon Tea, Father’s Day Feast, Pizza Night, Mum’s Away (as if…), Edible Gifts, and Pool Party. Although the recipes are easily taken out of the context they’re set up in, this kind of grouping will encourage children to think creatively and do some event planning around their meals.
While most of the recipes are reasonably advanced for an 8 year old, they can still be done with supervision and older children (like my 13 year old son, hint hint) can do the cooking quite sufficiently on their own. None of the recipes are super hard, and many are quite simple, relying on fresh ingredients and creative presentation rather than complex techniques. I particularly liked the Edible Gifts section, which includes such classics as lamingtons, coconut ice, lemon curd, jam-filled shortbreads, rocky road slice, and gingerbread biscuits. Having your children make their own teacher gifts would pay for the cost of the book, and would also be a lovely way to encourage them to participate and take pleasure in gift giving in a way that just doesn’t happen with bought gifts. Come to think of it, there’s no reason why your children couldn’t make their own holiday and birthday presents either, as well as cooking up their own parties. The possibilities are endless.
The book also includes cooking notes which provide information on everything from using eggs to slicing avocados and concludes with a menu planner to encourage mixing and matching the recipes (the school lunchbox ideas are also good, especially for jaded palettes as the year progresses). I have to admit that the recipes are pretty adult friendly, and that it might take a bit of wrestling for your children to take this one away from you. Do let them. Junior MasterChef Australia is a very nicely presented and appealing book that has benefits well beyond its pages. Parents who give this to their children as a gift may find that they are the ones who end up receiving the gifts.