Kids learn most practical skills from their parents, and that goes for preparing food as well. If you don’t take the time to teach your little ones how to cook their own food, you’re destined to receive a lot of panicked phone calls when they eventually move out. Don’t worry, it’s a lot less daunting than you think.
Every child will progress at his or her own rate, but Williams-Sonoma shares a great set of guidelines breaking down skills by age group. Start with the basics, such as mixing pancake batter, then progress to more demanding tasks as your little ones build skills and gain confidence. These kid-friendly recipes help develop good techniques your kids will be able to use for the rest of their lives without getting too fussy. They also happen to taste fantastic.
1. Classic Buttermilk Pancakes
One of the few breakfast dishes that’s universally loved, pancakes are also one of the easiest for kitchen beginners. The basic process is simply whisking the dry ingredients, combining the liquids, then mixing the two together. Introduce your kids to the method with these buttermilk flapjacks from Fine Cooking. As long as you supervise, little ones can even pour batter onto the hot skillet.
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more
- 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 2½ teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 2 large eggs
- Vegetable oil
- Maple syrup
Directions: Preheat oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Melt butter in the microwave in a small bowl or in a small saucepan over the stove.
Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt to combine in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk buttermilk and eggs. Pour wet ingredients into dry mixture and mix just until almost combined. Add butter and mix just to combine. There will be some lumps.
Heat a griddle or large skillet over medium heat. Test temperature by sprinkling a few drops of water over the surface. They should scuttle around, then evaporate. Grease griddle with oil and cook batter in ¼-cup portions, leaving about 1 inch between each. Cook until bubbles appear on the surface and edges appear dry, about 1 to 2 minutes. Flip and continue to cook until second side is browned, about 1 minute longer. Transfer to a baking sheet and keep warm in the oven. Repeat with remaining batter.
Serve pancakes with syrup and additional butter.
2. Ultimate Grilled Cheese
Grilled cheese is a great recipe to make with kids because you can accommodate just about any skill level. Really young children can work on assembling sandwiches while older kids can grate cheese and even get behind the stove. We especially like Ina Garten’s version as featured on Food Network, because you can count it among the kid-friendly recipes you’ll actually love.
- 12 slices thick-cut bacon
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- ¼ cup Dijon mustard
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 loaf pullman or sourdough bread, cut into 12 (½-inch-thick) slices
- 6 tablespoons salted butter, at room temperature
- 6 ounces aged Gruyère or Comté cheese, grated
- 6 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated
Directions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Arrange bacon on a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet. Transfer to oven and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until bacon is rendered and crisp. Transfer bacon to a paper towel-lined plate to cool. Cut into 1-inch pieces.
Meanwhile, combine mayonnaise, mustard, Parmesan, 1½ teaspoons salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper in a small bowl. Lay out bread slices and spread each one evenly with butter. Flip bread over and spread second side with mayonnaise mixture.
Evenly divide bacon among 6 of the bread slices. Pile about ⅓ cup grated cheese evenly over the bacon. Top with remaining bread slices so buttered sides face out.
Heat an electric panini press or a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Working in batches, cook sandwiches until golden on the outside and melted on the inside. If using a skillet, this will take about 3 to 5 minutes per side. Let cool briefly, cut in half, then serve.
3. Tomato-Basil Soup
If you’re making grilled cheese, tomato soup is a natural accompaniment. This basil-flecked recipe from Cooking Light is particularly nice because it’s so easy. Put little hands to work on tearing the basil. Yes, the recipe says sliced, but tearing works just as well. Some professional chefs actually prefer using their hands with basil because knives can bruise it.
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 3 (14.5-ounce) cans no-salt added tomatoes
- 2 cups fresh basil laves, thinly sliced plus more basil leaves
Directions: Heat oil in a large saucepan set over medium heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Stir in broth, salt, and tomatoes. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 20 minutes. Stir in basil.
Transfer half of soup to a blender and blend until smooth. Pour blended soup into a large bowl and repeat with remaining soup. Serve garnished with additional basil.
4. Easy Ratatouille
As scary as it sounds, teaching knife skills to your children at an early age really sets them up for successful cooking down the road. There are definitely some rules, though. Make sure you’re always supervising and take care of anything tricky yourself — think mincing garlic or dicing irregular shapes. It’s also a good idea to have a stepping stool and set of kid’s knives handy. Check out some great starter knife sets over at Apartment Therapy.
Now get started on a dish that involves a fair amount of chopping. This ratatouille from Food & Wine is a great choice. Most of the veggies are left in big chunks, which is perfect for kids. All you need to finish the meal is some crusty bread and some simply cooked chicken.
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
- 1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped
- 2 large tomatoes, halved and cut into ½-inch-thick slices
- 1 medium eggplant, cut into 1-inch pieces
- ½ pound zucchini, sliced crosswise into 1-inch-thick pieces
- 1 medium red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 bay leaf
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
Directions: Heat oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium low and stir in tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, bell pepper, and bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very tender, about 1 hour. Remove bay leaf and serve.
5. Crispy Baked Chicken Nuggets
Kids love anything bite-size, so these homemade chicken nuggets from The Comfort of Cooking will definitely be a hit. They’re also a great opportunity to teach kids a basic breading procedure, which can be used for almost any type of protein. And because they’re baked instead of fried, you can feel good about feeding these nuggets to your youngsters.
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
- ⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
- 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1½-inch pieces
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- Nonstick cooking spray
Directions: Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Toast breadcrumbs on a small, rimmed baking sheet until golden, about 5 to 6 minutes. Let cool, then transfer to a shallow dish along with cheese, salt, and oil. Mix well to combine. Place flour in a separate shallow dish and eggs in one last shallow dish.
Arrange a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet and grease lightly with nonstick spray.
Working in batches, dredge chicken pieces in flour, shaking to remove excess. Dip in eggs, letting excess drip back into the bowl, then coat with breadcrumb mixture, pressing lightly to adhere. Arrange breaded chicken on prepared rack.
Bake for about 10 minutes, flipping halfway through, or until chicken is cooked through and coating is golden. Serve.
6. One-Pan Pasta
If your children aren’t quite ready for boiling and draining pasta, this one-pot recipe from Martha Stewart Living is a good intro. All the liquid eventually gets absorbed into the noodles, so there’s no need to to worry about accidents over the sink. It seriously cuts down on dishes as an added bonus.
- 12 ounces linguine
- 12 ounces cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered if large
- 1 onion, thinly sliced
- 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 2 basil sprigs, plus more leaves
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more
- Coarse salt and ground pepper
- 4½ cups water
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Directions: Combine pasta, tomatoes, onion, garlic, red pepper, basil, oil, 2 teaspoons salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper, and water in a large, straight-sided skillet. Bring to a boil and cook, turning pasta with tongs until al dente and water has nearly evaporated, about 9 minutes.
Season pasta with salt and pepper and divide among bowls. Garnish with basil, oil, and cheese. Serve.
7. Mexican Tortilla Casserole
Like a cross between lasagna and enchiladas, this Mexican casserole from Savory Simple is easier than both. This casserole is one of our favorite kid-friendly recipes because youngsters of any age can help with assembly. If you have older children, they can easily handle cooking the bean mixture over the stove. Now it’s just a matter of layering tortillas, cheese, and the bean filling. The toppings are half the fun, so offer as many as you’d like.
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 1 medium garlic clove, minced
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1½ teaspoons chili powder
- 1 (14-ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, drained, ⅓ cup juice reserved
- ¼ cup tomato paste
- 2 (15.5-ounce) cans black or pinto beans, rinsed and drained
- 1½ cups frozen corn
- 3 cups coarsely chopped spinach
- Salt and pepper
- 8 corn tortillas
- 2 cups grated Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese
- Chopped cilantro
- Minced jalapeño
- Sour cream
Directions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease an 8-by-11-inch or 9-by-9-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
Heat oil in a large skillet set over medium-low heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until onion softens. Stir in garlic, cumin, and chili powder. Continue to cook, stirring, until very fragrant, about 1 minute longer. Add tomatoes and reserved juice, tomato paste, beans, corn, and spinach. Cook just until spinach wilts, about 1 to 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Arrange two tortillas in bottom of prepared baking dish and top with ¼ of bean mixture. Evenly sprinkle with ¼ of cheese, then repeat until all ingredients have been used.
Transfer casserole to oven and bake until heated through and cheese is melted and bubbling, about 20 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes, then serve with your desired toppings.
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