Online cookery classes for kids that will make them love preparing food

Can online cookery courses really work? Yes, says Caroline Hennessy after an onscreen masterclass with Darina Allen
Online cookery classes for kids that will make them love preparing food

JP McMahon Kids Virtual Cookery Classes with JP McMahon, Aniar (Photography by Anita Murphy 2021)

HALFWAY through the morning, as tomato fondue bubbled on the cooker, chocolate egg nests set on the worktop and 11-year-old Hannah shaped bunny pancakes on a hot frying pan, it hit me: online cooking classes with kids really do work. Until then, I have to admit that I didn’t think much of virtual cooking classes. How much could smallies really learn by just watching a screen? It took a class with Darina Allen to convince me.

Last Easter holidays, out of pure desperation, I signed Hannah up for a 90-minute Ballymaloe Cookery School cookalong, hoping that it would entertain her for a morning while I worked.

When the instructions arrived from Ballymaloe, I gave up all hope of getting some computer time for myself. Fourteen pages; eight recipes, and a full shopping list. But Hannah was fully invested. She went through the pantry and figured out what extra ingredients we needed. She did the shopping, the weighing, and got everything ready.

By 11am we were prepped: Aprons were on, the computer was propped up in a safe place in the kitchen, ingredients were in bowls. Darina, cooking together with Rachel Allen, hit the ground running and we had a riotous morning of chopping and mixing and tasting and cooking. Or, in my case, washing up and clearing down. We even had to call in another kitchen assistant to help; nine-year-old Maya, drawn by the tantalising aromas, was handed the cheese grater and got to work assembling quesadillas.

While the girls made dishes at full speed, the three of us having enormous fun, Darina and Rachel gave tips on how the recipes could be repurposed, demonstrated knife techniques, and conducted a thoroughly entertaining demonstration, while dealing with questions and comments from the online audience.

At 1pm, the girls and I sat down to a delicious lunch of quesadillas with all the trimmings, alongside a stack of oddly shaped pancakes. Supper — chicken wings with sweet chilli sauce — was in the fridge, ready to cook, and there were treats to share. 

While we had great fun whizzing around the kitchen and cooking, the big bonus was that the girls learned new skills and also got to eat delicious, healthy food. This is an advantage that cannot be underestimated.

Teaching children to cook has assumed a new importance with one in five primary school children in Ireland now classified as overweight or obese, according to recent HSE Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative research.

Getting children into the kitchen has long been a passion for Allen. Her latest book How to Cook, filled with simple, nutritious recipes, is also a call to arms, demanding that practical cooking and growing skills become part of the school curriculum.

She decided to offer the free class at Easter as part of Ballymaloe Cookery School’s suite of online offerings. In the end, 2,500 people from all over the world tuned in to the live broadcast, with more than 4,500 watching it online afterwards. “I love holding cooking classes for kids. When they can come into the kitchen and do it for themselves the excitement is tangible,” says Allen.

Chef JP McMahon of Aniar Restaurant wants to teach children how to cook.
Chef JP McMahon of Aniar Restaurant wants to teach children how to cook.

While in-person kids in the kitchen classes at Ballymaloe also include visiting the garden and greenhouses to see where vegetables come from and feeding scraps to the hens, Allen’s online class didn’t miss out on any of the techniques that she considers important: “How to use a knife, using a peeler, getting across the message of not wasting anything.” She likes to do “lots of exciting savoury stuff and make something sweet at the end. A few basic recipes and they’re off. All you have to do is take the mystery out of it.”

Demystifying cooking for children is something that Neven Maguire is also good at. Bord Bia ran a ‘Learn to Cook with Neven’ competition during the summer where the winners got to participate in one of six Zoom cooking classes with Maguire. Bord Bia brand manager Hylda Adams says they had intended to run the cooking classes in person at Bloom in the Park last year but, when that was cancelled, Maguire suggested doing it online. Adams said they were pleasantly surprised by the reaction: there were lots of entries — one class even had more than 2,000 entries — from which they randomly selected 25 children who were each sent an apron, recipe leaflet, and link to the class.

“What we wanted to do in these classes is give children a taste for cooking,” said Maguire. “We picked recipes where they could succeed and things they could eat immediately after. For that reason we always had something like scones. There are a lot of basic recipes like lasagne and omelettes that once you learn will stay without for life. And very much in our mind was to set people on that path. We wanted them to be passionate about cooking, to respect food, and to be aware of the great Irish produce.”

Children could choose to cook along, watch, or just cook one dish. “We got great feedback, they were delighted with the food. So interested and so intent,” said Adams.

It was also an opportunity to teach children about sourcing their food, with a focus on buying local and introducing them to the Bord Bia Quality Mark, showing that food has been produced in Ireland to the very highest standard.

Maguire isn’t stopping there: His just-released book — Learn To Cook with Neven — is specifically aimed at children. “Cooking is an important life skill and I love getting new people started.”

Since the Ballymaloe cookalong my girls have tried several more online classes, very much relishing the chance to learn cooking from someone that’s not their (bossy) mother. They’re picking up skills for life, discovering cuisines from around the world, exploring new foods and eating well. Cooking together and eating together: it’s win-win all round, especially when they take a turn at making dinner for the entire family.

  • Ballymaloe Cookery School:; recipes from Bord Bia’s Learn to Cook with Neven:
  • Darina Allen’s How to Cook and Neven Maguire’s Learn To Cook with Neven are both out now.

Six online cookery classes for kids

Aniar: JP McMahon, owner and chef at Galway’s Michelin-starred Aniar Restaurant, will be starting an eight-week online course for children and teenagers aged from nine to 16, from October 20. These are classes for the more sophisticated young cook, covering dishes like ham cooked in stout and hay, Basque cheesecake and beef ragout with handmade pappardelle. McMahon is a great teacher and this is a wonderful opportunity for your youngster to take a peep into a serious restaurant kitchen. Eight weeks are €250 with individual classes costing €35.

The Bunnery: Catriona Callaghan at The Bunnery has interactive Halloween camps for six to 13 year olds taking place over midterm (10.30am to 12pm for two days, €25).

Cookalicious: Cepta Mahon runs great Zoom camps for tweens and teens that involves them taking over the kitchen to cook a meal for the entire family. Her Mid-Term Cooking Camp takes place on October 26/27/28 from 12pm to 1.30pm each day. Having had experience of the nine-year-old doing and loving one of Cepta’s classes — and all of us very much enjoying the subsequent dinner — I’d highly recommend it.

Healthy Ever After: Nutritionist Fiona McEnroy focuses on healthy options in her live and interactive classes for kids. With Zooms taking place every Tuesday or Thursday afternoon (subscription €35 every four weeks) she covers dishes like sweet potato chips, peach and blueberry cake, and red lentil and spinach dhal. Check out her one free class option to see if it appeals to your own little darlings.

Saspan/Sospan: Rooted in Wales and trained in New York at the French Culinary Institute, Lisa Davis is now based in Dublin and teaches online as well as holding in-person classes at Airfield Estate. Focusing on over 12s, she travels the world through food, introducing students to tom yum soup, shakshuka and veggie korma. For Halloween, she will be doing a online teen baking workshop on Monday, October 25 (€20).

The Susty Kitchen: Rozanne Stevens, whose voice you might recognise from her regular appearances on Irish radio, underpins her work with a focus on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals of human health and planetary health, but still manages to have a lot of fun along the way. Her cookalong classes are timed to deliver dinner with family friendly favourites like katsu chicken and meatball subs.

Books for cooking with kids

  • For new cooks: DK Children’s Cookbook By Katharine Ibbs — any of the DK cookbooks for kids are a treasure trove of easily achievable recipes.
  • For those who like stories: Nadiya’s Bake Me a Story by Nadiya Hussain — Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain has a nifty way of telling lovely tales that finish in recipes like pea and mint risotto or very berry breakfast muffins.
  • For the gardeners: GIY’s Know-it-Almanac by Michael Kelly and Muireann Ní Chíobháin — there’s lots of growing to do here but also recipes for treats using veg that you have grown yourself.
  • For kids who want something completely different: Cooking for Your Kids by Joshua David Stein — this collection of recipes from chefs all around the world shows that everyone is in the same boat when it comes to getting food on the table for their children. While this book is aimed at parents, there are many playful recipes: Spicy scrambled eggs, smoked sweet potato gnocchi, or pork and zucchini dumplings.

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