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One of the positive things about lockdown has been cooking more with my children (6 and 9). They enjoy the obvious tasks to give them peeling & washing veg, grating, picking leaves of herbs, and stirring saucepans. I’m pretty safety conscious so while they sometimes chop things these are only things that can be chopped with a table knife, like mushrooms. They also enjoy opening packets, etc. I like them doing these tasks as it can be a genuine help as they prefer that to invented jobs. But, these tasks unfortunately all tend to be clustered at the beginning of most recipes and I’d like to find things for them to do. But, I want to keep them away from boiling water, hot fat, chefs’ knives, and the inside of the oven until they are a bit older.

I’d love suggestions of other things they can do so they don’t wander off disillusioned. Equally, I’d be super grateful for suggestions of recipes where they can contribute throughout. Or if there is equipment or other ways to make other activities safer that would also be great. I’m not terribly interested in baking type things which we already do.

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    I appreciate the question, but this is not the sort that does well on this site. The tasks that your children can do is unlimited (or only limited by your comfort and ability to teach them), and will result in a long list of equally valid responses. – moscafj Dec 23 '20 at 20:29
  • I’m interested by the idea that it’s just about teaching them. I’m happy to take calculated risks but would be grateful for any guidance on how to teach them to say deal with hot pans safely. Of course there is the hard way to learn but I’d sooner avoid scars! – dothyphendot Dec 23 '20 at 22:44
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    @dothyphendot Considering that this question is not a good fit for the site, you are of course welcome to bring the topic up in chat (might be a tad slow over the holidays), where broader discussions are placed best. – Stephie Dec 24 '20 at 15:31
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Dumplings! (The minced meat fried with vegetables wrapped in dough kind)

It's a tradition for many families to make dumplings together at the holidays, which in many cases, are when family reunions take place. It's really common to see children helping out, as there is usually a task for everyone.

Your children can help you with the dough, as it's very hard to mess up. Simply measure some flour, salt & water (we don't even measure in my household), knead, and you're good to go. While the dough is in progress, either being kneaded or resting in a covered post, you can make the filling. Not much to it, just seasoned minced meat stir-fried with finely diced vegetables.

When the dough and filling are all set, the fun begins!

  1. You roll out the dough into multiple narrow log-shaped portions, and constantly slice the logs forming cylindrical chunks.

  2. With each slice, you pass the chunk onto the next section of the "production line", well dusted with flour, where your 6 year-old can roll out the cylinder into a flat circle.

  3. With each rolled out dumpling wrapper, your 9 year-old can scoop some filling onto the center of the wrapper, fold the wrapper around the filling like a taco, and seal by pinching the edges of the wrapper with their fingers (or with a fork).

Of course, your children won't be able to keep up with your slicing, so you can transition to rolling out the dough or wrapping dumplings here and there.

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    Love this suggestion. I haven’t tried this, but it has the flavour of decorating cookies whilst also being about making the main dish. – dothyphendot Dec 23 '20 at 22:40
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A couple of factors make this not just about selecting tasks:

  • their attention span is limited, especially if the main meal is in the evening and they're tired.
  • a lot of cooking needs more effort at the beginning anyway (but the table may need to be got ready, and sauces/condiments taken to it).

Even your younger one could watch (with their eyes only) to check a pan doesn't boil over, and check how much time is left on a timer.

Child size oven gloves exist, but the bigger issue with ovens is often the weight to be lifted at arm's length. The oven gloves can be useful when stirring hot dishes though (my daughter is 7, and does that, though the layout of my stove is unhelpful with the most used burners at the back). Yours are far enough apart in age (and presumably size/strength) that different tasks will be appropriate, and the older one could handle some easier sharp knife tasks under supervision (not small things that take force or try to slip out from under the knife).

Topping/garnishing many things can get them involved just as they'd lose interest, like pizza (good from about age 2) or a pasta bake. Then you can all have a rest while the dish cooks.

Children can be surprisingly willing to help with clearing up, so collecting utensils for the dishwasher is a good one, being careful of sharps of course.

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  • Suggestion of child size gloves is a great one. As is the idea of having them watch things. Completely agree that other tasks ( table laying and cleaning up) are often thing can find fun, and are all part of the overall “project”. Thanks! – dothyphendot Dec 23 '20 at 22:42
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You can extend the classic cookie making to a few savory dishes. Homemade pizza works great, first optional kneading of self-made dough or using ready made dough, then adding the various toppings. Baking a quiche is very similar. Putting some kind of filling into phyllo/ filo dough [how is this spelled in English?] is also kid compatible.

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  • Note this line from the OP: "I’m not terribly interested in baking type things which we already do." – Anastasia Zendaya Dec 26 '20 at 13:16

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