The idea of kids cooking in the kitchen may terrify adults with concern about those sharp knives, potential food poisoning, and the resulting messy kitchen. But there are simple and easy recipes that kids can accomplish without causing a big fuss. According to WebMD, cooking with kids has many benefits, from encouraging picky eaters to helping children learn about healthy food choices.
Eating a balanced meal is an important part of helping children develop strong bodies and healthy minds. Having family dinners is one way to encourage kids to make good food decisions and for adults to model positive eating habits. Cooking a meal from start to finish with a child encourages basic math abilities, hones fine-motor skills, and teaches how simple it is to create a complete and nourishing feast. Yes, everyone might get a bit messy in the process, but the end result is sure tasty!
Getting Started: Salad
Combine spinach and strawberries to create a simple salad that may entice picky eaters to try something new. Not only does this salad include healthy spinach, which contains folic acid, but the sweet taste of strawberries along with a tart dressing. There’s nothing scary or challenging here!
Start by having the child rinse two bunches of fresh spinach in a colander to remove any residual dirt. She can also remove any long stems remaining on leaves.
Along with giving the spinach a good clean, she can rinse 2-cups whole strawberries. Both the spinach and strawberries can be gently dried using a paper towel.
Now tear the spinach leaves into bite-size pieces and put into a medium-sized salad bowl.
Then she can use a butter knife to remove the tops of strawberries and slice. The sliced strawberries can be tossed in with the spinach.
Using measuring spoons and cups, along with a glass jar with a lid, the simple and sweet dressing can be made. First, invite the child to measure 1/2-cup vegetable oil and 1/4-cup white wine vinegar and add to the jar.
Now she can add 1/2-cup sugar, 1 Tablespoon poppy seeds, and a pinch of salt. Once the lid has been put back on the jar, she can shake, shake, shake the dressing vigorously and pour over the spinach and strawberries. Toss and serve!
Learning Aspect – Tearing the spinach and cutting the strawberries helps hone a child’s fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination, promoting the use of the small muscles of the hand that help with her writing skills. While the child is cutting the strawberries, she can put her fine motor and math skills to the test by seeing how many slices she can cut from each strawberry, keeping count, and adding up the total slices in the salad.
Main Dish Cooking
A main dish that is fun makes the whole family happy and encourages everyone to join the clean plate club. Turn spaghetti and meatballs into a true treat by adding a special surprise. When cooking with raw meat, share with children proper ways to keep their bodies and the kitchen safe from food poisoning. Before cooking with ground turkey, have everyone wash hands.
Invite the child to help add seasonings to 1 pound of ground turkey placed in a mixing bowl by measuring 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 1 teaspoon dried garlic, 1 teaspoon dried onion, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and a pinch of sugar.
Next she can add 1-cup of plain breadcrumbs and use a mixing spoon to combine well.
Before making the meatballs, have the child decide what she wants to be the super secret surprise tucked inside the meatballs. Options include her favorite cheese, half a mushroom, or half a black olive.
She can use a butter knife to cut her secret ingredient and then begin rolling meatballs by gathering a spoonful of meat, pressing her secret ingredient into the center and then rolling into a ball.
Have her place the rolled meatballs on a sheet pan lightly coated with vegetable oil and preheat the oven to 425 F. Once she’s finished working with the meat, don’t forget to wash hands thoroughly!
While the oven preheats, she can begin making her pasta and sauce. She can heat up her favorite store-bought pasta sauce in a medium pan along with boiling a large pot of salted water for her favorite kind of pasta.
Once the oven has heated, it is time for an adult offer some assistance with popping the meatballs into the hot oven for 7 to 10 minutes. The child can be in charge of setting a timer to keep track of cooking time.
An adult can check the meatballs, turning them after 7 to 10 minutes, browning meatballs on both sides. Place half a box of pasta noodles (8 ounces) in the hot water to boil so everything is finished at the same time.
Remove the meatballs from the oven and invite the child can help transfer them from the tray, using tongs, carefully placing them into the hot pasta sauce to let cook for an additional 5 minutes. Also, an adult can drain the pasta when it is cooked through.
Now the pasta can be placed on plates, the meatballs and sauce can be ladled, and the special surprise meatball dinner can be enjoyed with garlic bread and a sprinkle of fresh basil!
Learning Aspect –While using measuring spoons and cups, a child is learning math concepts such as fractions. Put her math skills to the test by figuring out how many different combinations of measurements she can find that create 1-cup or a tablespoon. She can write out her computations on a sheet of paper.
Dinner isn’t complete without dessert and using yogurt is a healthy option and also beneficial for good digestion. These treats need to be made a day in advance to freeze properly, but can also be enjoyed freshly made (although a bit messy)!
Gather ingredients for the child to use including graham crackers, 1-cup plain vanilla custard-style yogurt, and a jelly flavor of her choice.
She can tear several squares of plastic wrap for wrapping her treats.
Start by placing a half a graham cracker on the plastic wrap and have the child use a butter knife to spread a layer of jelly on the cracker.
She can then place a spoonful of vanilla yogurt on top of the jelly.
Invite her to spread another half a graham cracker with jelly and gently place on top of the yogurt.
Carefully wrap the graham cracker in the plastic wrap and she can continue making sandwiches so each family member has one. Place the finished treats in the freezer for at least 4 hours, but preferably overnight.
Learning Aspect – When creating a frozen treat, a child is learning science concepts dealing with how materials change in different temperatures. She can create a chart to help her track how the cold temperature of the freezer affects the yogurt treats. After each hour, she can document how the ingredients in the treat have changed along with using a cooking thermometer to track its internal temperature.
No matter if you are an experienced cook or barely know your way around the kitchen, cooking easy recipes with kids encourages a healthy self-esteem and promotes positive cooking skills – and it’s a great (and tasty) way to spend quality time together!
*This is an article I originally wrote for Funderstanding.com. Go on over and check them out!