From multi-billion dollar corporations such as FoodNetwork, to homegrown "mommy blogs," everyone seems to have advice on cooking with kids, right along with tried-and-true "kid" recipes, such as mac-and-cheese and tacos.
Beyond the victory of getting a child to clean his or her plate, another challenge many parents would like to master is getting kids interested in cooking, and on top of that, cooking and enjoying healthy foods. While some online sites provide helpful hints, oftentimes it can be difficult to determine how to start cooking with kids because the suggestions are either too vague, or too age- or diet-specific. From blogs that aim to help your teens improve their cooking skills, to others that dictate how old your child should be before they help tear lettuce, it's hard to know where to begin.
What does seem to be universally agreed upon, however, is that cooking is a great way to bond with your kids, teach them a life skill, and increase their self-confidence by having them meaningfully contribute to the family, among other benefits.
When leading children in the kitchen, keep your goals realistic. Don't try to turn them into the next Iron Chef, at least not at first.
“Begin with what the child likes to eat,” says Sally Sampson, founder of ChopChop, a cooking magazine for children. But “not cookies,” she is quick to add. A good entry point for a child to start his or her own culinary careers may be with smoothies or eggs.
In her experience, cooking with children through ChopChop, Ms. Sampson has found that “kids are really fascinated by scrambled eggs or omelets.” You can “add pretty much anything to the eggs,” she says, and they can be eaten any time in the day. In fact, Sampson recommends using eggs to get kids to expand their concept of what they think they like, because it’s easy to throw in a bit of chopped veggies, or another new ingredient.
“We find that kids like anything they make,” says Sampson, who publishes a new issue of ChopChop monthly. While young eaters may be adverse to some foods, the range of foods they do like may actually be wider than they realize. Plus, cooking is a great way for them to learn a new skill and have fun, too.
During the summer, after-school hours, or on a rainy afternoon planned activities in the kitchen can be a great time to get kids to start cooking. Sampson recommends a variety of healthy, easy options:
1. Quesadillas: While this snack could also be a meal in itself, using a small tortilla can cut down on portion size. Small children can make their quesadilla in the microwave while older children can learn to use a skillet.
2. Sliced apples with nut butters: Break out of the traditional peanut butter and try almond, cashew, or sunflower seed butters.
3. Fruit skewers: Cut up different fresh fruits and let the kids choose how they want to arrange them on a skewer. Some fruits, such as kiwis, freeze well directly on popsicle sticks and make great “kiwisicles.”
4. Trail mix: Leave out different dried fruits, nuts, and cereals, and let children mix up their own gorp.
5. Rainbow sandwiches: This fun, healthy challenge lets kids make their own colorful sandwiches. Put out bread, sliced veggies and cheese and meat and challenge kids to build a colorful sandwich.
6. Yogurt parfaits: Set out chopped fruit or berries, yogurt, and granola, and let kids build their own fruit and yogurt parfaits.
7. Avocados or eggs on toast: Let kids toast a piece of bread in the toaster, and then once it’s ready, mash up a hard-boiled egg or half an avocado with a fork on the bread.
8. Fruit and tortilla roll-ups: Take a small tortilla and spread a little Greek yogurt, ricotta cheese, or a nut butter on it. Then put some cut-up fruit or berries in the center and roll tortilla around the fruit.
9. Popsicles: Put fruit pieces in a popsicle mold and then fill the rest of the space with fruit juice. Freeze and you have healthy, fruit-filled popsicles, no blending required.