In the last installment of “Learning to Cook with Kids,” chef and culinary educator Cleo Bell revealed some of her best practices for cooking with kids. Her big takeaway: Set a tone of respect and trust in the kitchen and kids will rise to the occasion.
She also broke down the best types of recipes for young cooks to follow. Her approach is to introduce kids to a broad array of ingredients and techniques—the wider the range of foods, she says, the more foods they’re likely to try.
Not only does cooking help instill curiosity by getting kids to figure out what they enjoy eating, but they also can build a sense of pride in their growing self-reliance—especially when they learn to cook foods that might usually be prepared for them. If a child loves chocolate chip cookies, for example, they might love them more when they learn to make their own.
Read on for some further recipe ideas for teaching your kids to cook.
Basics are Best
If there were a basic repertoire for young cooks, it would definitely start with chocolate chip cookies. “Anything baking-related,” says Bell, “and kids get excited.” Classic for a reason, chocolate chippers also introduce kids to a few key steps that they’ll then remember for other baking projects, such as cracking eggs, creaming butter and sugar together, and measuring dry and wet ingredients separately.
Pancakes or waffles could be next—and though the steps are similar to cookies, mixing a waffle batter requires a different technique (gently folding so that gluten doesn’t get overdeveloped) that can then be translated to crepes and muffins as skills advance.
Bell is a fan of teaching kids to cook eggs lots of different ways. “Kids love learning to crack eggs,” she says. (I can attest to this.) Between scrambled, sunny-side-up, hard-boiled, fried, or in an omelet or frittata, there’s no shortage of techniques to master when it comes to eggs. Bell favors frittatas, she says, because they offer a chance to sneak in some vegetables.
The day my older son made his first grilled cheese sandwich was a big day—he was so pleased with his ability to get the cheese melted and gooey while the outside got golden and crisp. Because grilled cheese ingredients are easy to come by, and the sandwich itself never gets old, it’s a good one for kids to master early on.
Burgers and meatballs give young cooks another chance to flex their budding chops. The techniques are simple, but it’s fun for kids to shape and season the meat; when they cook and assemble an entire burger, they’re often amazed at the thing they created.
As their confidence increases, let kids dive into more involved recipes, like strawberry shortcake —the biscuits require a special touch that takes some learning. If kids don’t get it right at first, no worries. Learning to cook is a perfect way to adopt a growth mindset—just because the first round of biscuits didn’t turn out right, doesn’t mean you’re a bad biscuit baker. Just try again.
The recent focaccia garden trend, where bakers decorate a sheet of dough with artfully arranged vegetables, is another project kids love, says Bell: Tactile, creative, and tasty—with a lesson about yeasted dough for good measure.
Chef Cal Peternell conceived his 2014 cookbook 12 Recipes as a handbook for his son who was going off to college.
He wanted his kid to have all of the basics all in one place, so he could cook for himself as he grew into his independence. Basics like vinaigrette for salads and roasted vegetables, mashed potatoes and roasted chicken, are alldishes that kids can learn now, and cook for a lifetime.
And, says Bell, there’s no reason even the youngest cooks can’t start learning those basics, too.
Leigh Belanger is a writer, editor, and content strategist. Her 2018 cookbook, My Kitchen Chalkboard, features a year of seasonal family dinners with menu ideas and meal planning tips to help make home cooking easier.