African food is diverse; individual countries and regions have their own blend of spices and foods, which are often eaten with hands rather than with cutlery. Cooking African food with children is a way of introducing them to a new culture, although how much you involve the kids depends on the age of children. Stick with foods that require only minimal preparation, such as salads, or that have a long cooking time, such as stews and soups. These foods allow kids to help, and they are uncomplicated and easy to execute.
African cuisine features a wide variety of stews, although the type of stew varies depending on the region in which it originated. A typical South African stew, mutton curry, uses mutton — sheep — shoulder, as well as a mix of spices that are easily found in grocery stores. Have the older children help by measuring out the spices, and, if they are old enough, let them slice the bananas with a butter knife. Younger children can help with adding the foods into the pot and stirring all of the ingredients together. Some African stews use ingredients that are not common stew ingredients, such as peanuts. These ingredients can help make these different foods more approachable since the ingredients are easily identifiable.
Easy to Prepare Salads
Salads are widely eaten throughout Africa, and they are easily assembled. Have the children help by prepping vegetables, such as tearing off the ends of green beans for a tomato and green bean salad. Bread salad is also fun to make with kids, as they can tear the bread into small pieces. Because salads often involve a lot of prep work, do the cutting beforehand so that small fingers do not get in the way. A popular dish, fruit salad, features large chunks of fruit placed on a plate, dressed with lemon or lime juice, honey and grated, roasted coconut. Have the kids help you arrange the fruit on the plate and to season it. Children can help with prep work by scooping the meat out of halved avocados, thus avoiding having to use any sharp utensils.
African desserts often feature sweet soups or baked goods that require a lot of preparation work, so they may not be ideal for children to make. However, fruit Popsicle-type frozen treats are popular throughout Africa. Make them using a plastic mold kit and reusable wooden sticks. Use juices from fruits popular in Africa to make the frozen treats. While orange is common, consider using blood oranges instead, which are found in many countries in Africa. Mango, apricot, pineapple, watermelon and coconut are also common fruits in Africa, and they also make good frozen treats.
Sugar peanuts are sold in cafes and along the side of the road in Africa. Kids can help by sugaring and baking the peanuts. Boil shelled, raw peanuts in a simple syrup — a 2-to-1 ratio of sugar to water — until the peanuts in the syrup are almost gone. Bake the coated peanuts for around 45 minutes in a 300 degree Fahrenheit oven, and cool before eating. Kashata, a cross between a cookie and a candy, uses peanuts and fresh, grated coconut. Mix the coconut and peanuts with ground cardamom or cinnamon, a pinch of salt and caramelized sugar. Caramelize the sugar by melting it over low heat until it turns lightly brown. Pour the mixture onto waxed paper and cut into squares once cooled. With careful supervision, children can help with the stirring and pouring process.
References and ResourcesFood and Recipes of Africa -- Kids in the Kitchen; Theresa M. Beatty
Kids Cooking Activities: South African Recipes
Metro Child Care Resource: Snacks From Around the World
All Nigerian Recipes: Fruit Lollipops
West African Cookbook; Ellen Gibson Wilson
Congo Cookbook: Sugar Peanuts
Congo Cookbook: Kashata