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I Can Cook: Getting very young children to cook

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Katy Ashworth Katy Ashworth | 12:28 UK time, Friday, 12 November 2010

As presenter of CBeebies' I Can Cook, I’m no expert chef. I’m just a big kid who knows how to make cooking fun and who has the amazing opportunity to present a TV show that proves you can get any child eating healthily. Cooking with kids doesn’t have to always be gingerbread men and fairy cakes does it? In fact, cooking a healthy meal - I have discovered - has so many more exciting elements to it.

Encouraging children to get involved and allowing them to do the discovery work for themselves gives them an amazing sense of achievement at a young age.  Making the programme, I saw this all the time, especially when we were in the I Can Cook garden on our ‘vegetable hunt’. Once a kid has got a muddy carrot in their hands they’ll be flying back to the kitchen to cook our Carrot and courgette muffins recipe.  And of course, growing veg and herbs doesn’t always require a garden – having pots on the windowsill is enough.

Katy Ashworth from I Can Cook


All cooking can be great fun. There’s so much to discover and try out; it’s all about looking at it from a four-year-old’s perspective. There are many games you can play to introduce the young chefs to a wide range of fresh ingredients. Every fruit and veg is a potential funny ‘face’ to mimic. We love doing the ‘raisin face’ and ‘potato face’ - though the ‘cauliflower face’ proves a bit trickier to do!

A spring onion may not look exciting, but it can spark off a ‘springing’ bounce around the kitchen and then be turned over to get its ‘hair' cut: the roots are trimmed, and the stalks are cut with scissors.

When we encourage our young cooks to turn vegetables and fruit into things, be prepared for their imaginations to run wild. Once we had to actually stop filming because one child went into great detail about how the runner beans resembled a mysterious creature called a “fragglewop” that lived in a “wogglemeer” and drove an eight-legged purple car!  Children are brilliantly amusing, and cooking is such a great channel for their imaginations.

Katy Ashworth with children from I Can Cook

Our challenge is to get children actively involved in the kitchen and to enjoy knowing more about where our ingredients actually come from - not just from a plastic supermarket bag.

What I have learnt cooking with 240 different children is that a child is far more likely to eat something if they've made it. This is the magic of cooking. It’s such a brilliant life skill too and the more they do it the more they’ll discover. On I Can Cook, we have produced more than 50 recipes specifically designed for young children to cook.

Personally, turning a piece of broccoli into a tree was enough to get me eating my five-a-day when I was little. How about you? How do you get your children interested in healthy food?

Katy Ashworth is presenter of CBeebies' I Can Cook. Katy also asks: if flour + sugar + children = mess, why let them bake? for the BBC News magazine.

Get Baking for Children in Need! The BBC’s Get Baking campaign aims to inspire and encourage all those who are new to baking to roll their sleeves up and discover their flour power – with the added incentive of raising money for Children in Need. Read a blog post by a member of the BBC Parent Panel on the BBC Parenting blog about baking with kids.


  • Comment number 1.

    Thank you for so many inspiring and interesting recipes. As a childminder I'm always looking for recipes which I can make with lots of children of mixed ages.

    The recipes give us lots of talk about as well as encouraging the children to try new things. Recent hits have included the Tomato Spirals (which we made for Bonfire Night and pretended they were Catherine Wheels) and the Chocolate and Mandarin Pudding which we had to make two nights in a row as my daughter loved it so much.

    I love the new look show by the way.

  • Comment number 2.

    Thank you for inspiring me to cook with my two grandchildren. How I agree with you about encouraging them to eat vegetables once they have seen them growing, the eldest grandchild didn't like carrots until he saw grandad growing them, now he can't eat enough.
    Keep up the good work.

  • Comment number 3.

    My grandsons love this programme, and both are good healthy eaters.

    We need more programmes like this!

  • Comment number 4.

    What a great show!! It's really helped me getting my children to eat more healthy and fun food. They also love helping me prepare the recipies and are now both avid "cooks"!

    Super show, brill fun bubbly presenter. Thank you!

  • Comment number 5.

    We’ve had quite a bit of discussion about getting young kids to eat well on the BBC Food Q&A messageboard since this blog post went up. Here are some highlights:

    MagicMarmite32: My daughter is 9 and a bit too old for CBeebies so has not seen the programme, but we both love Gastronuts and Junior Masterchef. My daughter is a good eater, and keen cook, has her fusses and foibles (as they all do), but generally I can't complain. I'm not entirely sure about dressing food as 'pictures'. I mean it's food, and best to get them to eat it how it is, but then again we've had some bad phases and I'd have spent all night painting the ceiling with it if I thought it'd get her to eat! I'm not a fan of Annabel Karmel. She encourages dressing food as pictures like no one else does. And her recipes don't really work either, the plain ones I mean. Of course the 'put a strip of pepper for a mouth' works. I think the face thing, and sweet food is not the way to go, which is why I very much oppose Annabel Karmel.

    sausagesrus: Never ever teach children to 'play' with food IMHO. Food is to cook and eat not to play with. All my 3 have been good eaters as I have never let them rule the roost. If they don't eat what I give them they go hungry. Drives me nuts when their friends come round and won't eat this or that etc. Homemade pizzas are a good teaching aid, growing your own veg and baking cakes also helps, but mainly weaning babies on 'proper' food, not jars of rubbish.

    cherrytree: I have four children and five grandchildren. The grandchildren have all eaten "proper" food as did their parents. Annabel Karmel has been a great help for inspiration. As their parents did, they have always eaten round the family table and tried everything. Tonight one three year old is going to enjoy Moussaka with us all. I'm inclined to think that all this dressing up of food is anticipating a problem that need not arise so long as children see good examples of families enjoying food, with a good example being set of parents being adventurous and appreciative. I'm an Early Years teacher as well and am tired of the number of children who seem to be able to dictate at home what they eat and refuse to try anything new, and indeed seem to have a fear of experimenting.

    mum-at-the-oven: I too worked in early years and always found that the children brought up on everyday family food were far less fussy. I had one child who only ate biscuits and quite a few that had never eaten fruit. We began to have more and more children from Mediterranean countries and it was always a pleasure to see them eat anything healthy that was given to them.

    Luca: I'm not sure why people need ideas to get young children to eat healthily. Buy good food and cook it well. Serve it. Don't make any big deal of it. It's hardly rocket science. If the child doesn't want to eat it (as long as there are not overriding concerns for health) then take it away. Child goes hungry. This new thing of pandering to every desire of a child is what I find unhealthy. I have never seen the programme in question and am commenting in reply to the hostess and not about it.

    meto: I do believe in allowing a certain fussiness in eating (I know some peeps don't, though I hated having to eat things I didn't like) and I think it helps to promote a discerning palate rather than an enforced like it or lump it attitude that could lead to supermarket ready meals, because that's what's there.

    AZCook: [Disguising food for children] not only makes for fussy eaters, but it turns food and eating into an emotional rollercoaster and something to be haggled over and bargained with. If children grow up eating with adults at the same table and served the same food they learn naturally by example. If parents eat well, children will eat well and without hang-ups and having to be cajoled.

    Get on the BBC Food Q&A messageboard to share culinary problems, discuss food issues and to swap cookery tips and tricks:

  • Comment number 6.

    My daughter is ten and enjoys cooking, I would love to see some recipes that cater to that age range; slightly more technical without being too complex. Its great to see programmes inspiring healthy attitudes towards food and cooking for the little ones!

  • Comment number 7.

    I am producing a short film (not for broadcast) for the BBC about the long-term legacy of quality children's programming. I would be very interested to talk to anyone who feels their child/children have developed an interest in cooking or widened the range of food they eat after watching either 'I Can Cook' or 'Junior Masterchef'. Please contact me at ''. Many thanks for your time. Helen Scholes


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