tips for cooking with kids and what to make
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Do you find yourself with a lot more time at home with your kids these days? Or maybe you want to convince them to try different, healthier foods? Perhaps you are running out of activities for your little ones while you’re all self-isolating? I’ve got a solution for all these scenarios: Turn them into your own personal sous chef. Cooking with your kids is not only a great way to pass the time, it’s productive and can be a big help!

Other than the aforementioned reasons, cooking has plenty of benefits for kids, like subtly teaching all kinds of educational lessons. It uses math with measuring and cooking times, science with the combining and cooking of ingredients, and geography and culture with making cuisine from different parts of the world. Besides everything kids can learn from cooking, it also exercises their creative side and gives them skills they can bring into adulthood.

Just for ThemEssential Kids' Kitchen Tools for the Budding ChefFor some parents, maybe the most important reason to cook with their kids is to get them to eat better, especially if they’re super picky. It’s exciting for kids to try something they’ve made themselves, which leads to expanding their palate and getting them interested in healthier foods. Win-win.

Ryan Prewitt, James Beard Award-winning Chef of Peche Seafood Grill in New Orleans and father of two young boys, says “For me, it’s also about spending time with them and sharing a project together.”

Prewitt adds that it’s more than just exposing kids to foods outside their comfort zone. “I think most parents want to get their kids to eat more than just a handful of vegetables.” Beyond that, Prewitt is in a unique position as the Executive Chef of Peche where his sons get a behind the scenes look at the inner workings of the restaurant.

“They see fresh fish coming in the back door and crab coming in or whatever it may be. I believe it’s teaching them the most important lesson about how to be a good consumer: knowing where your food comes from, who is catching [or growing] it, seeing chefs work with it. My hope is that years down the road this will have sunk in.”

Determine your own best approach with these tips and recipes to launch your family supper club.

Top Tips for Cooking with Kids

baking with kidss after school baking projects

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Safety First!

When it comes to kids using knives, you’ll need a careful strategy. Younger and beginner level kids should use a regular dinner knife to cut soft fruits and vegetables, like cucumbers, watermelon, tomatoes and garlic. When prepping, teach kids to properly chop using the “pinch and wrap” method for holding the knife with one hand and with the other hand, curling their fingers to steady the food they’re chopping and prevent cutting themselves. “My younger one has a kids’ knife and he’ll help with chopping. He likes to practice on apples,” says Prewitt.

Show kids how to mince by holding the non-blade side of the knife with both hands, chopping sliced garlic or ginger in a downward motion. Once they have plenty of practice with chopping and mincing, they can graduate to a chef’s knife under supervision.

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Measuring

One of the first things you can teach your kids about cooking is measuring, which is a big part of following a recipe and something easy they can do. Show them the difference between measuring cups used for dry and wet ingredients and what the lines on the larger measuring cups mean. Teach them the different measuring spoon amounts and the abbreviations, like tsp for teaspoon and Tbs for tablespoon. Have them watch you measure out a recipe first before trying it on their own.

tips for cooking with kids

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Herbs & Spices

Teaching kids about herbs and spice will expose them to all sorts of flavors and the many possibilities to elevate their cooking. Explain that herbs and spice come from roots, plants and seeds and that you can toast some spices to increase their aromatics and flavor, like cumin, cinnamon and mustard seeds. A great way to introduce kids to herbs and spice is to make pesto, chimichurri, or salsa in a mortar and pestle, or a food processor for more advanced cooks under adult supervision.

Mise en Place

The power of mise en place—French for “putting in place”—is an essential tool for any cook, and kids should learn it early. What this means is measuring out all your dry spices and wet ingredients; chopping all your fruits, vegetables, and herbs; and preparing your protein before you begin cooking. Basically, mise en place ensures you have everything ready to go so you can avoid the dreaded kitchen freak-out which is known to ruin a recipe and your sanity. A great job for your little prep cook is to be in charge of mise en place.

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Recipe Ideas for Cooking with Kids

Beginner Cooks: Salads

easy shaved carrot salad recipe

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A great place for kids to start cooking, much like where an entry-level cook would start at a restaurant, is with salads. Salads are so versatile and have endless variations, giving kids so many ways to discover different ingredients and how they work with each other. Making salads is primarily about prepping, assembling and mixing. If there is any actual cooking involved, it’s minimal.

When making salads, kids will learn about all the different lettuces and greens to use for the base and the many ways to customize with vegetables, fruits, nuts, proteins, and cheese. They will also learn about the importance of washing produce before composing the salad, using paper towels or a salad spinner to dry washed lettuce.

For many—especially kids—the best part of a salad is the dressing. Learning how to create, measure, and whisk a dressing is another great skill to add to the cooking toolbox.

Salad recipes to try with kids:

Intermediate Cooks: Baking

peanut butter and jelly bars (PBJ bar cookies)

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When it’s time to level up from salads, baking is the next stop on the cooking with kids journey. Baking teaches kids how to work with batters and dough, from measuring to mixing and shaping. Baking requires accuracy, organization, and patience—all great lessons for kids to learn!

Prewitt says baking is his kids’ favorite way to help in the kitchen. “What I’ve found that works best is when they’re actually creating something by hand like working with dough, picking the cheese and the meat that they build a pizza with, versus chopping onions and broccoli which has a much shorter entertainment lifespan,” says Prewitt.

Baking involves making foods that kids (and adults for that matter) love to eat most: pizza, cookies, cakes, muffins, breads, etc. Plus there’s nothing like pulling something you’ve made from scratch out of the oven. It’s definitely worth the wait.

As always, read baking recipes carefully and thoroughly before getting started to make sure you know exactly what to measure and how to shape dough, especially for baking bread.

Baking recipes to try with kids:

Advanced Cooks: Stove-Top Time

classic creamy risotto

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Once your kids have mastered salads and baking, it’s time for them to graduate to sauteing and cooking on the stove. This will utilize the skills they’ve learned thus far, like chopping, measuring, mise en place, and using herbs and spices. The new techniques they’ll learn is how to work with heat for stir frying, grilling patties, and making soups, sauces, and stews.

After this step, your kid will be on their way to “Master Chef Junior” in no time, or at least be able to make dinner all—or mostly—on their own.

Stove-top recipes to try with kids:

Even More Inspiration

10 Great Cookbooks Geared to Kids

Header image courtesy of PeopleImages / E+ / Getty Images

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