Kids In The Kitchen: Child-Proof Tips And Recipes For Cooking As A Family – Here And Now

What a crazy time this is. And for parents of young children, it’s more challenging than ever. Many kids are home going to school virtually or only attending in-person classes a few days a week. With schedules upside down and inside out, it’s a great time to invite kids to come into the kitchen and cook with you.

Yes, there are obvious pitfalls. You can get dinner on the table much quicker if you just do it yourself. And the kitchen will stay cleaner if you cook without your kids. But consider what you might be giving up: Cooking with kids builds memories. It teaches them about where their food comes from. Children are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables if they have played a part in creating a dish. It’s as much about the process as it is about the result.

And cooking teaches STEM skills. When you bake, kids engage with these skills through a fun, delicious activity.

Cooking together is also a great way to pass on traditions and rituals. (“My grandmother always made these cookies with me when I was your age.”) And creating independent children who know how to feed themselves and others will pay off big time for many, many years to come.

Where to start? Depending on the age of your children you want to start with some basic, but enticing options.

Smash some avocados to make guacamole. Pop some popcorn and make up an interesting topping. Layer tortilla chips with salsa and cheese and leftover vegetables to make nachos. Make your own kale chips instead of eating potato chips. Roast pumpkin seeds from your Halloween pumpkin. Bake muffins or cookies. Roast chickpeas for a healthy snack, you can find that recipe and others here.

What about a fruit salad? Peel and chop bananas, pears, apples, citrus, melons, or whatever fruit you have on hand. Consider a smoothie. This is a great way to get kids to enjoy fruits and vegetables and yogurt. Set out a bunch of fruit — apples, bananas, pears, frozen berries — some plain yogurt, and ice cubes. Let each kid create their own smoothie based on their tastes. Call it a milkshake if you like. But watch them have fun and be creative and drink up. Smoothies make a very fast nutritious breakfast or snack. Here’s a basic recipe to follow.

Speaking of breakfast, try these pancakes:

Maple-Banana Pancakes

The batter for these pancakes takes minutes to put together. The pancakes are topped with banana slices sautéed with cinnamon, ginger and maple syrup. You could also sauté some apple or pear slices or your favorite fruit as a topping. Serve with bacon or fruit salad for breakfast or make it a special breakfast-for-dinner night.

Makes about 12 pancakes.

Pancake Ingredients 

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup white flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour (or use 2 cups white flour)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups buttermilk*
  • 2 eggs, whisked
  • 2 tablespoon maple syrup or honey

Bananas Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 bananas, peeled and sliced about 1/2 inch thick
  • Dash ground cinnamon
  • Dash ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey
  • Maple syrup for serving, warm or room temperature

*If you don’t have buttermilk you can make your own: simply mix 2 cups milk with 2 tablespoons lemon juice or white wine vinegar. The acid will slightly curdle the milk, and, after about 10 minutes, the “buttermilk” will be ready to use.

Maple-banana pancakes in a skillet. (Kathy Gunst)

Instructions

  1. To make the pancake batter, in a large skillet melt the butter over medium heat.In a bowl whisk together the white flour and whole wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk in the buttermilk, eggs, melted butter, and syrup and mix until just blended. The batter can be covered and refrigerated overnight.
  2. Make the bananas: In a medium skillet heat the butter over moderately-low heat. Add the banana slices and sprinkle with the cinnamon and ginger. Cook 1 minute. Gently flip the banana slices over and raise the heat to medium-high. Add the maple syrup or honey and cook about 1 minute, until the syrup is bubbling and thickened, and the bananas are turning golden brown.
  3. Make the pancakes: Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Heat the large skillet you melted the butter in over medium heat. Working in batches, add about 1/4 cup batter to the hot skillet (kids, careful!) making pancakes about 3 inches wide. Top with a few slices of the sautéed bananas and cook about 2 1/2 to 3 minutes, or until bubbles form. Carefully flip the pancake over and cook another 2 to 3 minutes, until pancake doesn’t look “wet” and is golden brown. Keep the pancakes warm in the preheated oven. Repeat with the remaining batter. Serve with maple syrup.

Another breakfast treat? Make granola with your kids. They can customize to suit their own tastes. (P.S. This makes a great from-the-kitchen gift your kids can make and give to others this holiday season!)

Quesadillas — tortillas with melted cheese, salsa, and other toppings — make a quick, simple lunch, snack, or a light dinner. Here’s the basic recipe:

Cheese And Salsa Quesadillas

Cheese and salsa quesadillas. (Kathy Gunst)

Grilled cheese meets tacos. Let the kids shred the cheese (careful of those fingers!). Make salsa or open a jar. And then add whatever your kids love, and you have on hand: slices of ripe avocado, thin slices or shreds of cooked chicken, leftover vegetables, beans, etc. This recipe makes 2 quesadillas, but you can easily double the recipe.

Quick Salsa Ingredients:

  • 1 cup chopped ripe tomatoes
  • 1 scallion, chopped (white and green sections)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons lime or lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro, optional

Instructions

  1. Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl and gently mix. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt, pepper, or lime juice if needed.

Quesadilla Ingredients

  • 4 corn or flour tortillas
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese, sharp cheddar, or our favorite variety of hard cheese
  • 1 cup salsa (see recipe below or your favorite jar of salsa)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, optional
  • About 1/4 cup sour cream
  • Lime wedges, optional
  • Very thin slices avocado or radishes, optional

Instructions

  1. In a large skillet heat 2 tortillas over moderate heat for 1 minute. Flip the tortillas over and divide the cheese on top. Add 1 tablespoon salsa in the middle of the tortilla and a sprinkle of cilantro, if using. Top with another tortilla and gently press down with a spatula. Cook about 2 minutes. Gently flip the quesadilla over and cook another 1 to 2 minutes, or until the cheese is cooked and bubbling.
  2. Remove from the skillet and cut each quesadilla into quarters. Top with a dollop of sour cream, a sprig of cilantro, and a few slices of avocado or radishes, if using. Serve hot. Serves 2 to 4.

Pumpkin-Coconut Soup

Pumpkin-coconut soup. (Kathy Gunst)

This may sound sophisticated and complex for cooking with kids, but the orange color and sweet pumpkin flavor will win them over. You sauté an onion. Add a peeled, chopped up cooking pumpkin or winter squash (or canned pumpkin puree). Add salt and pepper. Then add chicken or vegetable stock and simmer and add a can of unsweetened coconut milk. Whirl in the blender. (Kids love pressing buttons on blenders and watching food transform!) Reheat. Done!

Serves 6 to 8.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 cups pumpkin or squash* peeled and cubed: this would be a 4-pound sugar pumpkin, or a winter squash like butternut (I used a Long Pie Squash), peeled and deseeded and cut into 1-inch pieces.
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 can unsweetened coconut milk (13.6 ounces)
  • Possible toppings: chopped parsley or chives, chopped walnuts or almonds, chopped sage leaves, roasted pumpkin

*You can also use pre-peeled and cut squash chunks available in many supermarkets or 2 cans of plain pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling) in place of fresh pumpkin or squash, though the flavor won’t be quite as good.

Instructions

  1. In a large pot heat the oil and butter over low heat. When the butter is melted add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the pumpkin or squash pieces and stir into the onion; cook 5 minutes. Raise the heat to high and add the stock. Bring to a boil; reduce the heat to low and cook, covered, for 10 minutes. Add the coconut milk, stir until it’s incorporated and cook 5 minutes uncovered. The pumpkin or squash should be quite tender.
  2. Remove from the heat and, working in batches, puree the soup in a blender or food processor. Place back into the pot and taste for seasoning; add salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot with any, or all, toppings.

Basic Safety Tips

  • Never leave a young child unsupervised around knives, blenders, and sharp object.
  • Use a knife with young kids together. Guide their hands on the knife talking about staying away from blade.
  • Wear aprons. Less laundry later.
  • Set out ingredients and measuring cups so they can weigh ingredients out and measure everything. This is where math and learning come into play.
  • If you’re working with really young children set out an old sheet on the floor to make clean up easier.
  • Start with a recipe your child is excited about. Then segue to more fruit and vegetable-forward recipes.

I also checked in with Molly Birnbaum, editor in chief of America’s Test Kitchen Kids and the mother of two young children. She provides some excellent resources for cooking with kids.

“At America’s Test Kitchen Kids, when the pandemic started, we not only took down the entire paywall on our website [which will remain free forever], but we began publishing free weekly curriculum for parents, called Kitchen Classroom,” Birnbaum said. “It highlights free simple recipes, experiments, and activities for kids to do at home, with small learning moments to help parents guide.”

This segment aired on October 29, 2020.