Donna Hay is renowned for her remarkable culinary skills, but what you may not know about her is that she loves cooking with kids.
Being a mother of two boys, Donna says that she loves the excitement and curiosity on kids faces when they are in the kitchen and the fact that kids simply tell it like it is.
“Kids are completely candid and will tell you straight when they don’t like something! That’s a great way for me to learn and experiment with variations,” she says.
She’s taken her popular Basics to Brilliance philosophy and adapted it to recipes for kids that they (and their parents!) will love. In her new show and cookbook, Basics to Brilliance Kids, she’s teamed these recipes up with fun ways to enjoy them, including movie nights and treasure hunts.
Here, Donna shares her fondest cooking memory from her childhood, talks about the importance of teaching kids to cook and explains how she keeps her two boys busy in the kitchen.
How has shooting this show been different to your other shows? What have you enjoyed about it?
This has actually been one of the most challenging projects I’ve worked on. With kids at the heart of the show, there was plenty to juggle. I needed to create recipes that were adaptable, variable and universally loved by kids, but also recipes that would be embraced by parents and with variations to encourage cooking for all ages and skill levels.
This time with Basics to Brilliance Kids, I’ve taken super fun activities – movie nights, surf safaris, treasure hunts – and built the recipes around these themes. It involved a lot of work in incredible locations, from Wisemans Ferry and stunning orchards to Palm Beach and Vaucluse, which I think also added a character of its own to the show. It was a lot of fun and certainly offers viewers something different.
What’s your most memorable cooking experience from when you were young?
Cooking lemon curd with my grandma.
What do you love most about cooking with your kids?
It’s incredibly rewarding to know that getting kids in the kitchen, teaching them to master the basics and sparking their interest early on, has a huge impact later in life. There’s so much enjoyment to be had in the kitchen so it’s great to see the excitement and curiosity in their faces.
Kids are also completely candid and will tell you straight when they don’t like something! That’s a great way for me to learn and experiment with variations.
What recipes are popular with your kids and why?
My boys love making sushi and rice paper rolls. They also love snacking on my chocolate peanut slice and take muffins to school in their lunch boxes.
What benefits do you think kids get from getting in the kitchen and cooking?
Watching the transformation from passive to inclusive is phenomenal. As soon as kids are involved with cooking in the kitchen – choosing the ingredients, learning to handle cooking equipment, tasting and testing – I find there’s a natural inclination to discover more. Mastering the basics means that kids can learn to experiment with variations and swap in clever ingredients for healthy change-ups.
Kids also generally start learning with sweets and then they move onto savoury, so teaching kids to cook with fresh produce from an early age is what can make a huge difference later in life.
What’s your secret for cooking recipes that kids love and that are good for them?
You need to get creative! Kids are inquisitive; they want to know everything – where ingredients comes from, what’s inside, what the texture feels like – so the secret is really just getting kids involved in the process, experimenting and feeding the curiosity.
The recipes in Basics to Brilliance Kids focus a lot on nutritional trade-ups and hiding in plenty of goodness. When kids start to take part and discover creative ways to eat vegies, I find this has a huge impact. For example, getting creative with grating vegetables into fritters, or using zucchini as wraps for cannelloni.
Do you have any advice for parents with fussy eaters?
I always say not to sweat the small stuff. There were certain things I didn’t particularly love as a kid but I think you develop your palate as you grow and end up experimenting with them as you cook. There are plenty of foods and clever ingredients you can try in the meantime! I do find that when kids are involved in the process they tend to be more adventurous in eating the results!
What is your all-time family favourite recipe?
My carrot cake or jam drop cookies.
Dont miss Donna's new show Basics to Brilliance Kids, Thursdays at 7:30 on Lifestyle.
Pre-order Donna's new book at, donnahay.com.au