Cooking With Kids: Easy Recipes Kids Like

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PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
It might be messy, but teaching kids to cook promotes a whole new set of skills.

I know what you’re thinking. You are envisioning yourself
knee deep in an avalanche of flour. The mixer is buzzing at
top speed, splattering the wallpaper with brownie batter.
Your children are fencing with shish kebab skewers and the
cat and dog are fighting over food remains. As the
paramedics carry you out the door, you imagine the
headlines in the local paper, “Woman Collapses After
Cooking with Children.”

Sure, cooking with your children is a messier and more
time-consuming project than cooking solo; it’s definitely
not something to undertake when you’re tired and pressed
for time. You don’t need to scrounge through women’s
magazines, however, in order to have a vast array of cutesy
children’s recipes. These are often time consuming and very
rarely nutritious.

Your preschooler will have just as much fun tearing up
lettuce, chopping up fruit with a plastic knife, or sifting
flour. When my son was about two years old, I figured it
was about time to begin improving his culinary awareness
skills. (After all, the world needs no more untrained men
in the kitchen.) These days, everyone needs to know their
way around the kitchen for survival purposes-the days of
June and Ward Cleaver are over.

There are other valid reasons, of course, for inviting the
kids into the kitchen. I know you think I’m going to say
that it’s one of those special parent-child bonding
experiences. Of course it can be, but food preparation
skills are also a springboard for learning. Cooking with
your children will promote development in the following
areas:

Self Esteem

Cooking encourages your child’s independence and
autonomy. Children are often proud of their kitchen
creations, and will often boast, “Taste it! I made it all
by myself.” Also, here’s the perfect opportunity for your
child to try a new vegetable or food that is strongly
disliked. Being rather egocentric, young children will
generally eat what they’ve prepared. Salads can take on a
whole new meaning for children when they prepare it
themselves. Also, learning about food will help children
make healthier food choices.
 

Language

You can expand your child’s vocabulary by incorporating
new words into your food preparation: saute, fold, mince,
blend, and so on. Your child will learn how to do the
activities by doing them. Have older children read and
follow recipes, step by step, in order to learn sequencing
and how to recall information. Later, you can ask your
child to explain to you how “we made jello today.”
 

Cognitive Skills

Cooking can be scientific because of experimentation
involved and the theory of cause and effect. Discuss with
your child how a liquid turns into a solid when you’re
making ice cream or popsicles. Help him discriminate
between two smells, such as cinnamon and almond extract.
Make predictions, asking your child questions such as,
“What do you think would happen if we forgot to put in the
baking powder?” or “What would have happened if we had
doubled the amount of yeast in the bread?”
 

Work on pre-math skills, such as sequencing by nesting
measuring cups inside one another or arranging measuring
spoons by size. Sorting objects is also a pre-math skill.
Ask your pre-schooler to sort food items; putting chocolate
chips in one pile, raisins in another, nuts in another,
etc., pointing out both their similarities and
differences.
 

Large and Fine Motor Skills

Whenever children are cutting, rolling, stirring,
pounding, chopping, and peeling, they are manipulating and
strengthening muscles in their arms, hands, and fingers.
Holding utensils, measuring ingredients, and pouring
liquids helps develop coordination and dexterity. Before
you round up all your kids and head for the kitchen, here
are a few hints to make the experience as pleasurable as
possible:
 

Make a cooking appointment with only one child at a
time. (If you have more than one child, rotate. You might
want to call the others in to play with the playdough or
decorate cookies after the food preparation with the one
child.) Set up a special time with your child when
there are few distractions, such as when older children are
at school or the baby is napping. Be sure to allow enough
time. He/she may want to sift the flour for 30 minutes just
for fun. Have all the prep work done beforehand:
clear all surfaces and have everything you need available
so that your child won’t become restless and bored.
Keep the recipes simple at first. Young children are
happy merely making cookie cutter sandwiches for lunch.
Allow your child to be creative. There isn’t always one
correct way to prepare food. (For instance, my son puts
cajun seasoning in his own marinara sauce.) Don’t
be afraid to fail. Children need to learn that life doesn’t
always flow as planned. Discuss with your child ways to
improve your recipe the next time that you make it.
Schedule a regular time for your children to help you
in the kitchen. Post jobs on a bulletin board. Even a three
year old can set the table and learn one-to-one
correspondence.
 

Soft Pretzels

1 teaspoon yeast (I use powdered)1 cup warm
water
1/2 teaspoon honey3/4 cup whole
wheat flour (not pastry flour) plus 3/4 % cup unbleached
white flour.
1 eggsesame seedsoptional: 1/3 cup cheddar cheese, grated
Utensils:
large mixing bowl, two
medium bowls, measuring cups and spoons
cheese
grater cookie sheet

Preheat oven to 425°F. Start yeast according to
package directions. Then mix yeast, honey, and water; wait
for five to 10 minutes until mixture gets foamy. While
waiting, grate cheddar cheese.
 

Next, mix unsifted flour and yeast mixture together, a
little at a time. Keep adding more of each and mixing,
until dough is smooth and can be easily stretched. (This
takes about five to 10 minutes.) Mix in cheese, and then
make six to eight balls out of dough. Add more white flour
if dough is too sticky to work with, and roll each ball
into a long “snake.” Shape the “snake” into letters,
numbers, or any shape that your child comes up with. Beat
egg, and brush it onto the dough shapes. Sprinkle sesame
seeds onto formed pretzels, and bake on a greased (or
non-stick) cookie sheet for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove when
light brown.
 

Pita Pizza

vegetables, any combination: broccoli, green or red
pepper, zucchini, onions, carrots, spinach

Pita bread, we use 3″ whole-wheat pitas1
small can pizza sauce (eight ounces)
1/4 pound
cheese, grated or sliced thin: provolone, muenster,
cheddar

Preheat oven to 375°F. Steam vegetables for about
60 seconds. While they’re steaming, lightly toast pitas in
toaster until they dry out a bit. Spread sauce on pitas,
sprinkle on cheese, and decorate with vegetables. Place
pizzas on cookie sheet and bake for about 10 minutes until
crispy.
 

Fruit Juice Jello

2 cups 100 percent juice (appleraspberry or apple-grape
is good)
1 package Knox unflavored
gelatin

*fresh fruit (bananas, apples, grapes, oranges,
berries)

Bring to a boil one cup of juice. Add gelatin
gradually, whisking constantly. Stir into bowl with the
other cup of juice and fruit. Add fruit and chill until
firm.
 

*Do not use pineapple or kiwi-the jello won’t gel.
 

Edible Playdough* (or call it fudge)

1 cup carob powder1/2 cup honey1
cup peanut butter (smooth)
1 cup powdered
milk
3/4 teaspoon almond extract

Mix together ingredients with hands or wooden spoon. If
too sticky, add more powdered milk. Give your children a
two-inch ball to handle like playdough. After creating and
experimenting with different shapes, they can decorate
their fudge with coconut, raisins, and nuts such as sliced
almonds, etc.
 

*This “fudge” may not look all that appetizing, but if
you don’t react negatively, your child won’t even
notice.
 

Surprise Muffins

1 egg1/4 cup oil1/4 cup honey1 tablespoon lemon juice1 cup milk1/4 cup oat bran (or wheat germ)2 cups whole
wheat pastry flour, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoons baking
powder

*1/3 cup sugar free jam or jelly

Preheat oven to 3750 F. Line a muffin pan with 12 paper
liners. Beat egg, honey, lemon juice, milk, and oat bran
together. Add flour and baking powder; mix briefly. Fill
muffin cups half full. Then have your child place a
teaspoon of jam in the middle of each one. Don’t take long,
though-the baking powder is working. Spoon the rest of
batter on top until cups are at least X full. Bake for 20
minutes until light brown.
 

*The “surprise” can also be carob chips,
raisins-whatever you think of.
 

Fruit Kebobs

party toothpicksfresh fruit: pineapple,
grapes, kiwis, bananas, oranges
shredded coconut
(optional)

Slice fruit in bite sized pieces, place them on
toothpicks, and sprinkle with flakes of coconut. This
recipe may seem a bit simple, but kids just love to play
with the different fruit shapes and color
combinations.