Holiday breaks are upon us, meaning that many parents are about to have two straight weeks of kid time. Sure, holiday celebrations and skating or sledding are going to keep the kids entertained for a few of those days, but won't it be nice to spend some time in the kitchen with your kids, making a little mess and some memories too?
Cut-out cookies are always on our to-do list, but December is so sugar-filled that some not-sweet recipes are in order as well. These are the 10 things I cook the most with my 3- and 6-year-old, plus a few tips on getting them involved in each recipe.
What Makes a Recipe Friendly for Tiny Chefs?
Here's what I'm looking for in recipes to cook with my children. It should make something that we all enjoy eating, so this list includes lots of ubiquitous kid foods. The recipe must also have one or more components that the kids can either prepare, measure, or mix. The fewer ingredients the better, since there are often sibling squabbles over who gets to measure or pour each item. Lastly, I prefer recipes that don't have a long wait time between mixing, baking, and eating.
Kid-friendly kitchen tasks vary by age group, but my young ones help in the following ways:
- Unwrapping butter
- Pouring measured ingredients into the mixing bowl
- Cracking eggs
- Peeling vegetables
- Cutting soft foods like butter, cheese, and some fruits or vegetables
- Grating foods like butter, cheese, and fruit
- Supervised mixing with a hand mixer
Batter breakfasts, like pancakes or waffles, are one of our favorite weekend cooking recipes and they get double kid-cook-friendly points because each kid can have their own mixing bowl with one in charge of dry ingredients and the other in charge of wet ingredients. I put my older kiddo in charge of dry (she's tidier) and the younger kid in charge of wet ingredient (he loves to crack eggs). Just be sure to use a larger bowl for mixing.
Kid tip: Have your younger kids crack their eggs into a small bowl before adding to the batter to avoid egg shells in your finished pancakes.
Similar to pancakes, waffles allow a certain amount of control for both parents and kids, while making for a sweet or savory breakfast option. My 6-year-old is pretty comfortable pouring batter into the waffle iron, but always with supervision.
Kid tip: Younger kids can help scoop up the batter and hand you the measuring cup. As they age, help guide their hands to the waffle iron and show them how to pour the batter and close the waffle iron safely. Baby steps.
These are a little on the sweeter side, but anything we can mix in the blender is a win for my power-tool-loving 3-year-old. Again, he helps pour the measured flour and sugar into the blender, and he gets to press "go!"
Kid tip: Leave your blender unplugged until the lid is secured. That way, you'll avoid any little fingers firing up the blender and causing an explosion of batter in your kitchen.
Some muffins are just cupcakes without frosting, but savory muffins walk the line between snack and a quick meal. Depending on the recipe, each kid gets a mixing bowl — one wet and one dry — but they can also help grate cheese or cube ham and snip fresh herbs with scissors. An ice cream scoop also lets the kids help fill the muffin pan for baking.
Biscuits are a biweekly occurrence in my kitchen, and probably one of my favorite things to make with my kids. The dry mixture is just three ingredients and because I prefer a butter grating technique, my kids can easily help with that. Their little fingers do an excellent job of working the butter into the flour, too. Despite well-intentioned advice that biscuits must be treated daintily, a biscuit will rise fine and taste better when folded just a little too much by tiny hands.
Your children already know and love these tiny cheese crackers that come in fish, bunny, and whale shapes, so why not make a batch at home on a snow day? These are primarily made in the food processor, where tiny hands can help chunk the cheese for grating and add ingredients to the bowl as needed. You'll probably want to roll the dough out yourself to keep it even for baking, but my kids love cutting out their favorite shapes.
Snack mix is super fun to mix up with your kids. It doesn't require any kind of perfection, so it's a great recipe for letting younger kids measure and count their own cups. Plus, they can munch and crunch on almost all of the ingredients as you make it.
Want to blow your pasta-loving kid's mind? Just make pasta from scratch! If pasta from scratch sounds like the kind of thing that only chefs have time for, let me assure you otherwise. Pasta starts with three ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen right now (flour, salt, and eggs) and you can't overmix it.
You can use a food processor to mix it if you want to get to the rolling and cutting faster. My kids crack the eggs and then we each take turns running the dough through our pasta roller, but you could easily roll your dough with a rolling pin and let the kids use a pizza cutter to cut thin noodle-like strips.
We make pizza about every other week at my house. It helps if you have time to mix up the dough the day before so that your kids can shape and top their own dough. I've found that mixing up a batch of dough together after breakfast gives my kids another reason to behave during the day — pizza awaits us at dinner time. Don't forget that kids can help grate cheese, snip herbs, or chop vegetables for pizza toppings too.
10. Pita Bread
Okay, so pita bread does have a short rise time that you'll have to fill up with a few games of Candyland or Go Fish, but it's one of the few bread recipes that can be quickly mixed up and then cooked in the same day. Divide up the dough but let the kids do the rolling or patting and shaping; pitas don't have to be perfectly shaped.