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Little Chefs – Grand Designs

One of the greatest gifts you can give your children is the ability to cook, so it’s important to cultivate an inclusive, child-friendly atmosphere in your kitchen to ensure they start from a young age. Here, Cloé Timperley chats to Daniel Lamanna from A Maze N Cabinets about designing a child-friendly kitchen, and identifies ways to engage your kids in everything from the grocery shopping to cleaning up.

The kitchen is the beating heart of the home; a space in which the whole family comes together to eat, socialise, entertain or do homework. But when it comes to its original purpose – a room in which to cook and prepare food – it’s too often viewed as an adults-only zone that’s fraught with dangers such as hot pans, sharp knives and boiling water. However, integrating your kids into kitchen activities can accomplish a number of short term goals and lead to long-term benefits. First and foremost, you can spend quality time with them while they learn lifelong culinary skills, and you’ll eventually be rewarded with a valuable little sous chef who can lend you a helping hand when the pressure is on. Further, developing an appreciation for nutrition and a healthy relationship with food begins in the kitchen, which is why it’s so important to get your children involved in the joys of cooking from an early age. Self-esteem, creativity, independent thinking and a sense of discovery are all heightened in the kitchen, and the skills they build there will improve their wellbeing long into the future. Creating a fun, functional and child-inclusive kitchen requires some careful planning and designing, and the implementation of a few key strategies. Here, Melbourne Kitchen + Bathroom Design explores the steps you can take to get your little ones excited about opening up the cookbook.

The first step to getting your children enthusiastic about cooking is to give them their own workspace. A well-designed and -positioned island bench promotes connectedness and collaboration, which makes it the perfect anchor point where little chefs can gain some hands-on experience. Your island bench should be wide enough to accommodate you and your helper standing side by side, with adequate floorage for a chair or step stool if required. You could even consider lowering the bench – or at least a section of it – to a height your child can easily reach. “Recently, we have seen an increase in [the popularity] of island benches [with] an L-shape design,” says Daniel Lamanna, the general manager of A Maze N Cabinets. “This allows for a lower or rebated seating area, which stops children falling from higher stools.” It’s also important to think carefully about the surface material of your island bench. As your child learns the ropes in the kitchen, you’ll inevitably encounter some smashed utensils and messy spills, so it’s wise to opt for a substrate that’s durable, easy to clean and stain resistant, such as stainless steel or engineered quartz. “Reconstituted stone is [one of the most] favourable products [for family-friendly kitchens] because it’s sealed and great for managing stains,” says Lamanna. “Similarly, DuPont™ Corian® is a [popular] surface [that’s perfect for child-friendly] benches.” If you’re in the market for something a little more affordable than brand new countertops, consider crowning your island bench with a heavy-duty butcher’s block. If you embrace the unavoidable scratches as part of its charm, a butcher’s block is an inexpensive option that provides your child with a designated workspace to call their own.

DRAWER THEM IN

When it comes to kids in the kitchen, accessible cabinetry is critical. Instead of running yourself ragged fetching utensils or ingredients for your children, encourage them to take initiative by storing the most frequently used supplies in areas they can easily access, such as floor-level cabinets, pull-out drawers, wire baskets and open-top bins. Similarly, try to store items in the same place every time, as this will encourage your little ones to memorise their location. To avoid jammed fingers and nasty injuries, consider soft-close doors and drawers. “Recently, there has [also] been a push towards finger-pull handles,” says Lamanna. “We’re discovering that clients love the streamlined profile they create, and from a safety point of view, the [handle-free design removes] any sharp edges that might hurt the little ones.” Kids love to have their own versions of adult appliances, so an under-counter refrigerator drawer that’s just for them is a smart addition to your kid-friendly kitchen. A self-serve refrigerator drawer that’s filled with healthy after-school snacks is perfect for young kids who are just beginning to learn how to help themselves to food. Alternatively, storing healthy treats in a separate bar fridge will free up valuable real estate in the main fridge. While accessible cabinetry is great for snacks and cutlery, inaccessible storage is just as important when you have small children in the kitchen. Remember to keep fragile and potentially dangerous items in high cupboards that cannot be reached by kids even if they stand on a chair or footstool. Lamanna also recommends positioning your electrical appliances “close to the pantry area or fridge, as this will reduce the manoeuvring of hot items and the potential for [accidents]”.

SPICK AND SPAN

Cleaning up after oneself is an important life skill that goes hand in hand with being responsible and helpful. While it’s not always easy to get kids excited about household chores, there are a few simple tips and tricks you can utilise to ensure your kids not only cook in the kitchen, but clean it, too! Composting is a great, hands-on way to dispose of food scraps while teaching your child about the environment and how to identify biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste. Keep a bowl or container on your kitchen counter for disposable food scraps, which your child can empty onto the compost heap or garden once full. Perhaps your burgeoning environmentalist could take ownership of the composting process completely by decorating the compost bin with their favourite colours, stickers or patterns. Installing lowered hooks that sit in alignment with your child’s height will allow them to easily reach tea towels when the time comes to wash and dry the dishes. Dish washing improves the fine motor skills of young children, and will encourage learning as they play with the water and bubbles! Further, teaming up to wash and dry the dishes is a highly collaborative task that affords plenty of time to talk and laugh with one another, and you’ll both share a sense of satisfaction once the job is complete. If you want your kids to help wipe down the benches and clean up spills, then it’s wise to invest in some child-friendly cleaning products instead of handing them the toxic chemicals that may be lurking beneath your kitchen sink. There are plenty of eco-friendly disinfectants available at the supermarket, but you can also make your own with a few common ingredients from your pantry. Spend a fun-filled afternoon with your child mixing safe, homemade cleaning solutions with white

vinegar, lemon juice and bicarbonate of soda, and bottle your concoctions in brightly coloured spray bottles. If there’s one certifiable way to get kids engaged in anything, it’s with fun! Whether this means your child has their own colourful measuring cups and spoons, or a monogrammed apron or tea towel, it’s important to cultivate a cheery and welcoming space they’ll feel a part of. Hanging up a large chalkboard is a simple and effective way to encourage kids to participate in the kitchen. Use it to write notes, shopping lists, and inspiring quotes, or simply let the kids exercise their artistic flair! When you sit down at the beginning of the week to plan the family meals, consider involving your child in the brainstorming process, and use the chalkboard to write up the day-to-day menu. If you have a blank wall to spare, you could even paint it entirely with chalkboard paint, which would give you a floor-to-ceiling canvas. If your kids have a favourite recipe, why not make it official by inscribing it in big, bold text? Be sure to purchase a box of coloured chalk and store it in a nearby basket so that your kids can doodle on the chalkboard wall as they come and go. When they begin to develop incredible culinary capacities, you can chalk it up to your child-friendly kitchen! There is a huge variety of children’s cookbooks
currently available, with recipes that range from easy three-step classics to more sophisticated dishes for mini chefs. While kids can learn basic techniques simply by cooking alongside you, presenting them with a collection of kid-friendly cookbooks that appeal to their interests will make them feel independent, empowered and inspired! Set up a little library on the kitchen bench, along with pens and pencils to use for any scribbles or annotations. If your child tends to absorb information more easily from instructional YouTube videos rather than

traditional books, you might like to set up a mounted iPad on the bench, as well. A tray that’s laden with fun grab-and-go activities can be a lifesaver when you need to keep younger kids occupied in the kitchen. Cookie cutters and Play-Doh will give them a feel for the joys of baking, while a food-themed colouring book will help familiarise them with the various ingredients they will inevitably come to use. Creative activities such as these will encourage your children to associate the kitchen with imagination and exploration, which will serve them well down the track when they begin experimenting with new recipes, flavours and foods. Food may nourish the body, but time spent in the kitchen creating and connecting with loved ones nourishes the soul. From planning and decision making to emotional bonding and nutritional knowledge, ensuring your kids get involved in the kitchen and in what they eat comes with a plethora of benefits that will assist their cognitive, emotional and physical development. Whether your kitchen is large or small, there is a wide range of steps you can take to encourage your kids to embrace the space and get cracking on those culinary skills. “The sheer size of your kitchen [will] not necessarily [make or break your plans],” says Lamanna. “[At A Maze N Cabinets], we highly recommend functionality over size. It’s more important that you have everything you need at your fingertips rather than large, spacious joinery that isn’t very practical or functional.” Whether you opt for a complete redesign or simply decide to include a few kid-friendly features, your new child-inclusive kitchen will be the perfect space in which you and your little one can while away the hours making precious memories – and meals!