Learning in the kitchen

The kitchen is a great place for learning.


When children participate in the preparation and cleaning up of meals and other food items the learning is richer than just cooking and cleaning, they are learning skills which will be invaluable for their future independent lives such as:

  • cooperation, sharing, taking turns and patience (how long before they’ll be ready?)
  • the etiquette of dining.
  • hygienic food handling.
  • the language of food and cooking and the preciseness of vocabulary such as the difference between dice and chop, shred and slice, boil and steam, bake and roast.
  • counting and one to one matching when setting the table with one of each item for each person.
  • the mathematics of measuring mass (250 g), volume (1 cup or 250 ml) and time (bake for 15 minutes).
  • the mathematics of linear measurement; measuring the length, width and depth of baking tins and trays.
  • reading and following procedures, and understanding that unless the steps of a recipe are followed in order the outcome may not be what was expected.
  • writing of menus and shopping lists.
  • organisational and preparation skills: making sure all ingredients and utensils are available and assembled.
  • the science of mixing and combining, heating and cooling, and the different effects these may have upon different ingredients and utensils.
  • understanding that some of the changes that occur are reversible e.g. water to ice and back again; but that some are irreversible e.g. cream to butter, but not back again.

While it is not suitable for children to use knives or handle hot utensils or heating appliances when young, and only under careful adult supervision when older, children can be included in many kitchen tasks from a young age.

Watching, discussing and asking questions provide great opportunities for learning. Children can be introduced to tasks such as mixing, pouring, measuring, menu planning and cleaning up, amongst others, as they grow.

One of the fantastic things about food preparation is the opportunity it provides for asking questions: it can be an ongoing edible science experiment, for example:

Why do the cakes rise?

What makes the water bubble?

Why is a cloud coming out of the jug?

Where does the water go when it boils?

Why isn’t the egg white white before it’s cooked?

What would happen if I didn’t put the egg in the cake mixture?

Why is some sugar brown?

What the difference between sugar, caster sugar and brown sugar?

What happens to cream when it is beaten?

At the moment I am grappling with a kitchen science dilemma, and if you can provide an answer to my question, I’d be very appreciative.

My question is:

What is a suitable vegetarian substitute for gelatine?

One of my family’s favourite desserts is Mango Cream Tart. Gelatine is used as a setting agent in the dessert.

Some of my family members are vegetarians who, upon discovering the answer to the seemingly innocuous question

What is gelatine made from?

realised that eating anything containing gelatine no longer suited their food choices.

So rather than remove the dessert from family menus, or make something that was unacceptable to these family members, I decided the only thing to do was find a substitute for the offending ingredient.

I have purchased two different vegetarian substitutes but both require being boiled in the liquid which they are to set and are therefore unsuited to the Mango Cream Tart and other cream cheese cheesecakes I may wish to make. An additional factor confirming their lack of suitability is the warning that they may not set some fruit juices.

I did an online search and found 3 Vegetarian Substitutes for gelatine. If you have used with success any these products, or another product, that may be suitable to use in my Mango Cream Tart recipe I would love to know please.

Here is the recipe which includes suggestions for parents on how they can incorporate learning opportunities for their children while making it. If you can’t help solve my gelatine dilemma, I’d love to know what you think of the way I have presented the recipe. Would this format be useful to parents of young children?

Mango 1

mango 2

Mango 3

mango 4

Mango 5

Mango 6

Mango 7

Mango 8

Mango 9

Mango 10

mango 11

mango 12

Mango 13

Mango 14

You can click on this link: Mango cream tart – recipe for a full-screen slideshow of the recipe.

The quote by Michael Rosen at the top of this post is from his new book: Good Ideas How to Be Your Child’s (and Your Own) Best Teacher. In the book he includes a chapter “The Kitchen” explaining why he thinks the kitchen is the best classroom invented.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post. I’d especially appreciate feedback on my presentation of the recipe and suggestions for a vegetarian substitute for gelatine.


Kitchen photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/john-schilling/364481975/  http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/


18 thoughts on “Learning in the kitchen

  1. Nanny Shecando

    Oh I wish we had more affordable mangoes down here, lucky you! And yes, learning in the kitchen is so important! Sometimes I get busy with the kids and the day-to-day, we bake or make dinner. Then I worry that we didn’t get around to those lesson plans I’d made, or practised our times tables enough. But I have to stop and remind myself that with the kids helping me in the kitchen, we’ve learnt just as much (plus life skills)!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sarah Brentyn

    Hmm… Not a cooking/baking person. O_o I should be ashamed. We always seem to be running around, making quick meals for the kids. We have so much to do and don’t slow down (and, of course, when they “help”, it takes 10 times as long). I’ll be back to read more of your ideas, though, and maybe it’ll get my butt in the kitchen with my kids.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Norah Post author

        Those are great places to start. Measurement of time too – and sharing. Not to mention all the wonderful language. And the treat of something to eat at the end. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Bec

    Hi Nor, I think the step-by-step recipe with photos and clear instructions is a great idea! What a lovely way to help make cooking more accessible to children. I remember the Wombat Stew Cookbook was a favourite, but from memory the recipes were not set out in this way – still just a page to a recipe (is that correct?).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Norah Post author

      That’s right. The Wombat Stew cookbook was set out as a traditional recipe book with a list of ingredients preceding the method.
      I have seen recipes, and have made some myself, where each step is presented in its individual box with an illustration accompanying it to support children following the steps.
      I have not seen anything quite like what I have done here with suggestions for parents to support their children’s learning through the experience.
      Thanks for your positive comment and support. 🙂



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