Life in lockdown: How to get your family cooking in the kitchen

How do you go about getting everyone in your household engaged and involved in lockdown cooking?

Food stock
Food stock

We’re almost a full year in and yet, every day, it’s with total bewilderment that we realise it’s time to somehow conjure up another three full meals.

The cycle of planning dinner, cooking it, eating it and then washing up (ugh), and then being asked if there’s anything else to snack on, is pretty relentless. And that’s the case whether you have kids or not.

People in shared housing also have to contend with limited fridge space and who has custody of the hob every night, while couples wrangle over whose turn it is to think of something for lunch, and who made breakfast the last three mornings and deserves a break.

So, how do you go about getting everyone in your household engaged and involved in lockdown cooking? Having swapped restaurant cooking for home cooking as a result of lockdown restrictions, we asked Shaun Hill, chef at The Walnut Tree Inn in Abergavenny, where he holds a Michelin star, for his thoughts …

Chef Shaun Hill (Tamin Jones/PA)
Chef Shaun Hill from Salt Is Essential published by Kyle (Tamin Jones/PA)

Start with a love of eating

“When I went into cooking, it was not because I wanted to cook as an actual craftsman. It’s because I like to eat and it worked back from there,” explains Hill. “I think you have to do the same for people if you’re trying to persuade them to cook something.

“Showing them how to chop onions or make sauces, it’s like learning grammar in French or Latin at school. You have to get them to help with a dish you know they love, and say to them, ‘Wouldn’t you like to be able to make that yourself?’ Then there’s incentive to get together and cook.”

Remember, you’re not a restaurant

Life without being able to go for dinner, says Hill, will likely have found out “those hobby cooks, who use a lot of brandy and cream and fillet steak – they might find that the everyday cooking has work attached and may start moving on to ready-made”. The trick, he muses, is to “actually enjoy everyday cooking” without turning every evening meal into some restaurant-worthy feat.

“Cooking at home has lots of advantages,” he continues. “You’ll eat when it’s ready, not when you’ve just finished your third gin and tonic. And you only have yourselves to please.”

It’s also OK to rely on old favourites and batch cook them – even as a pro, with 50 years in the restaurant industry, that’s what Hill’s been doing. “Partly from necessity,” he notes, “it’s been difficult to get hold of anything other than dull fish, but you can get hold of smoked haddock – and then you make a big kedgeree, or lasagne”.

These things are warm and comforting,” he says, adding that everyone wants a bit, regardless of how many times you’ve already eaten it in the last few months.

Make cooking part of your routine

Prepping dinner can often end up a mad rush, even if you’re working from home. Hill recommends starting earlier, so people have a longer period of time during which to take an interest.

“In the afternoon, I spend an hour or two on whatever I’m going to eat. And I approach it partly as pleasure,” – and being a chef, “partly as research”.

Make it fun

Cooking can feel like a chore, but if you tilt perspective and create a different ambience, you may find more of your household will be inclined to congregate in the kitchen.

“You can listen to some music or the radio while you’re doing it and it can become a pleasant part of your routine.”

Lockdown kitchen cooking disco anyone?

Don’t be disheartened when it comes to teenagers 

“It’s much easier with smaller children who are more biddable and more easily bribed or persuaded,” says Hill on cajoling youngsters to help out with dinner.

“Early teenagers tend to be moving from whatever they’re studying at school to discovering a social life, which trumps just about everything. I find they’re the hardest group to get interested – but it is possible.”

It just takes perseverance and again, tempting them with stuff they actually want to eat. The boredom of Zoom classes may also work in your favour.

Use all the seasonings you have available

Encouraging everyone to taste and season the way they like things can help capture a little interest too, for instance: “I like green Tabasco because it’s much milder, and I use it as part of a range of tricks to make a dish or a piece of meat or fish more interesting, along with lemon juice and olive oil and butter.

“A little bit that’s not turning it into a chilli con carne, can sometimes lift things.”

Remember there are moments when it is wise to cook alone

Hill and his wife are both talented cooks but even they need some alone time in the kitchen. “We tend not to be cooking the same dish at the same time – that way is the way of argument,” says Hill with a laugh.

“If it’s not the way it’s supposed to be, aspects of whatever else you’ve been bickering about (can) come into the food!”

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