Want your kids to learn a valuable life skill, eat healthier foods, practice basic math, and build self-confidence? Put them to work in the kitchen.
“Getting kids in the kitchen and showing them how to prepare simple, real food meals is setting them up for a future where they are able to make informed choices about what they eat and take control of their health,” wrote food blogger Mardi Michaels, who teaches cooking classes for kids.
Harried dads and moms may worry that inviting the under-10 set into the kitchen is a recipe for disaster, but cooking with kids doesn’t have to be time-consuming or complicated. Start with simple, age appropriate tasks. Kids as young as two might be able to help tear lettuce and wash fruits and vegetables, while five- and six-year-olds can measure ingredients and mix with an egg beater, suggests the National Institutes of Health. Enlist kids to help on weekend mornings and days off from school, when you have more time and everyone is less frazzled. Getting kids involved in meal prep can also cut down on complaints at the dinner table.
“Encourage kids to explore cookbooks and websites for recipes,” nutritionist Julie Negrin wrote in an article for the Food Network. “The more invested they are in the meal, the less likely they’ll whine about it.”
Dads who want to get started cooking with their kids can begin with one of these seven recipes for simple child-friendly dishes. While some are more complicated than others, kids of all ages can participate in at least some steps in the cooking process.
1. Chocolate Chip Pancakes
Chocolate-chip pancakes make weekend breakfasts a little more special. Kids can help make this fun treat by breaking the eggs and measuring out the mini chocolate chips and other ingredients. Older kids may be able to pour and flip the pancakes with supervision. Recipe from The Accidental Cook.
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon baking soda
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 1¼ cups buttermilk or regular milk
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- 2 large eggs
- ¾ cup mini chocolate chips
Directions: Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Add the buttermilk, oil, and eggs. Mix until just combined. Fold in the mini chocolate chips.
Warm a griddle or large skillet over medium heat. Once the griddle is hot, coat with non-stick cooking spray. Pour ¼ cup of batter onto the griddle for each pancake. Once bubbles start to appear on the pancake, flip. Cook for 1 or 2 minutes more. Remove from griddle and keep warm while you cook the remaining pancakes. Serve with butter, syrup, and other toppings.
2. Quilt Pizza
One kid likes pepperoni, the other prefers pineapple. You want a slice with olives and mushrooms. You can end fights over what to put on your pie when you try this quilt pizza recipe from Parents. Each square gets its own toppings, and even the youngest kids can have fun choosing what to put on their slices.
For the pizza:
- Olive oil
- 1 pound frozen pizza dough, thawed
- ½ cup pizza sauce
- 2 cups (8 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese
For the toppings:
- 1 red onion, halved, sliced, and separated
- 1 cup (4 ounces) trimmed green beans, steamed
- ½ cup chopped pineapple
- ½ cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 small red sweet pepper, cut into thin strips
- ½ cup sliced fresh mushrooms
- ¼ cup green onions, cut into slivers
- ¼ cup sliced pitted ripe olives
- ¼ cup spinach leaves cut into slivers
- 2 strips bacon, crisp cooked and chopped
- 2 to 3 dried tomatoes (packed in oil), drained well and cut in half
Directions: Preheat oven to 425 degree Fahrenheit. Lightly brush the bottom of a 15-by-10-by-1-inch baking pan with oil. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to a 15-by-10-inch rectangle (let dough relax as you roll, if necessary). Transfer to the prepared pan, stretching if necessary to fit.
Spread pizza sauce evenly over dough; sprinkle evenly with cheese. Arrange toppers on pizza in 12 sections to create a quilt design.
Bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until browned.
3. Boursin Pinwheels
Pinwheel sandwiches are almost as much fun to make as they are to eat. Young kids can help with layering the ingredients and rolling up the tortilla for these bite-size snacks while Dad slices the rolls. Older kids can assemble their own sandwiches (and even get creative with the ingredients) and slice with supervision. This recipe is from She Knows.
- 3 (8-inch) tortillas
- 1 (5.2-ounce) carton Boursin cheese (garlic/herb cheese)
- 12 large fresh basil leaves
- ½ of a 7-ounce jar roasted sweet red peppers
- 4 ounces shaved deli roast beef, ham, or turkey
- 1 tablespoon mayonnaise (light or regular)
Directions: Spread each tortilla with one-third of the cheese. Add a layer of the large fresh basil leaves to cover.
Cut the peppers into ¼-inch wide strips and divide among the tortillas. Arrange over the basil leaves 1 to 2 inches apart.
Top with meat slices. Spread 1 teaspoon mayonnaise over the meat on each tortilla. Roll up the tortillas tightly, jelly-roll style. Wrap in plastic wrap.
Chill in the refrigerator 2 to 4 hours to blend flavors. To serve, remove the plastic wrap and cut each of the rolls into 1-inch slices (make diagonal slices, if desired).
4. Waffle Grilled Cheese
Sometimes, making food kid-friendly is all in the presentation. Take this recipe for waffle grilled cheese from Williams-Sonoma. The ingredients aren’t any different from those in a traditional grilled cheese, but preparing the sandwich in a waffle maker is a fun twist. Waffle irons are also easy for kids to use with a little help from dad, so they can take an active role in preparing lunch.
- 4 slices soft whole-wheat bread
- 2 tablespoons butter, softened
- 4 slices cheddar or Monterey jack cheese
- Deli meat or thinly sliced tomato (optional)
Directions: Place a sheet of aluminum foil underneath a nonstick waffle iron. (This will simplify cleanup in case the cheese oozes.) Preheat the waffle iron according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Assemble the sandwiches by buttering the outsides of the bread slices and placing the cheese slices on the insides. Add additional fillings like deli meat and tomato if you like.
When the waffle iron is hot, put the sandwiches in the waffle iron and close it. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the undersides are golden brown and the cheese is oozing. Check sandwiches once or twice to make sure they are not getting overcooked. Remove the sandwiches with tongs or a fork and cool slightly before serving. Makes 2 sandwiches.
5. Stir-Fried Chicken with Ketchup
Chicken stir-fried with ketchup certainly sounds like a recipe a kid would come up with. But this dish from the Mark Bittman of the New York Times is more than just novelty food. Bite-size pieces of chicken are coated in flour and then fried. Then, the ketchup is cooked with garlic and cayenne pepper for a sauce that both adults and kids will love. Kids who want to help in the kitchen can help toss the chicken with the flour and measure out the ketchup for the sauce.
- 1½ pounds boneless chicken, preferably dark meat, in ½- to 1-inch chunks
- ½ cup flour, more as needed
- 4 tablespoons neutral oil, like corn or canola
- Salt and pepper
- 2 tablespoons slivered garlic
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
- 1 cup ketchup
Directions: Toss chicken with flour so that it is lightly dusted. Put 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet, preferably nonstick, and turn heat to high. When oil smokes, add chicken in one layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Toss chicken with flour so that it is lightly dusted. Put 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet, preferably nonstick, and turn heat to high. When oil smokes, add chicken in one layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Add remaining oil to pan and turn heat to medium high. Add garlic and cayenne pepper and cook, stirring, about 2 minutes. Add ketchup and stir; cook until ketchup bubbles, then darkens slightly. Return chicken to pan and stir to coat with sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning, then serve.
6. Artistic Cookies
Pint-sized artists can let their inner abstract expressionist shine with this cookie recipe from Martha Stewart. Start by having dad prepare the dough for these cookies with the help of the kids. Then, when it’s time to decorate, just place a few drops of food coloring on each cookie and let kids blow the dye into patterns with a straw. The results may be too pretty to eat!
- 4 cups sifted all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- ½ teaspoon table salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- Assorted liquid food coloring, for decorating
Directions: Line two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. In large bowl, sift together flour, salt, and baking powder; set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs.
Add reserved flour mixture; mix on low speed until well combined. Stir in vanilla. Wrap in plastic; refrigerate for 45 minutes. (Dough should be well chilled so it is easy to work with.)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. On a floured work surface, roll dough ¼-inch thick. Transfer rolled dough to a prepared baking sheet; chill until firm, about 15 minutes. Cut dough into large rectangles. Place the cut cookies 2 inches apart on both of the prepared baking sheets. To decorate, place a few drops of food coloring on a cookie. Using a straw, gently blow food coloring over cookie. Place baking sheet of decorated cookies in refrigerator; chill until dough is firm, about 15 minutes.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until edges of cookies start to brown. With a metal spatula, transfer cookies to wire racks; let cool.
7. No-Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars
There’s no need to worry about burned fingers when you make these no-bake chocolate peanut butter bars with the kids. With just five ingredients, these scrumptious sweets are the perfect quick-fix dessert. Toddlers can help crush the graham crackers for crumbs, while older kids can help assemble the bars. The hardest part of making this recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction is waiting for the bars to chill in refrigerator.
- ½ cup (115 grams) salted butter, melted (if using unsalted butter, add ¼ teaspoon of salt)
- 1 cup graham cracker crumbs (about 8 full sheets)
- 1 cup (120 grams) powdered sugar
- ¾ cup, plus 2 tablespoons (215 grams) creamy peanut butter
- 1 cup (180 grams) semi-sweet chocolate chips
Directions: Line an 8-by-8-inch or 9-by-9-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper.
Mix the melted butter, graham cracker crumbs, and powdered sugar together in a medium bowl. Stir in ¾ cup of peanut butter. (Do not use all-natural peanut butter in this recipe.) Add ¼ teaspoon salt if using unsalted butter. Spread the mixture into the prepared baking dish.
Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of peanut butter to a small bowl along with the chocolate chips. Microwave until melted. Spread the chocolate over the peanut butter mixture in an even layer.
Transfer pan to the refrigerator and let chill for at least 3 hours. Remove from fridge and let sit at room temperature for 10 minutes before cutting into bars.
Bars will keep for 5 to 7 days if stored in a covered container in the fridge, or in the freezer for up to 2 months.
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