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Cooking with kids

My niece is interested in cooking. She's 8. Any favourite recipes you use when cooking with your kids? Any tips on kitchen safety, or should I let her discover the real uses for kitchen implements (under strict guidance naturally)? I'm looking forward to introducing her to lots of interesting new foods and techniques.

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  1. Alton Brown frequently addresses this in his show, Good Eats, on the Food Network. It's on a little late for an eight year old, but you could Tivo or record it for her. I do think there are tools that should be off limits until she's full grown--a chef's knife, for instance. I remember that I loved to bake bread as a kid. The whole process was magical and scientific and fascinating. "Yeast is alive!?!" that sort of idea.

    Good on 'ya for teaching her a valuable, economical life skill when most people don't cook or bake anymore. I am so glad my mother let us make a mess in her kitchen.

    4 Replies
    1. re: amyzan

      Thanks amyzan, she loves to watch cooking shows rather than Saturday cartoons, so I'd like to nurture her interest. She also likes experimenting with different tastes like edamame and strange fruits!

      1. re: amyzan

        I disagree with banning the chef's knife. My friend's daughter learned to use one properly when she was five -- she's not carving a chicken, but she chops herbs she picks from the garden, for example. She is always very careful.

        1. re: sweetpotater

          Your friend's daughter must be unusual developmentally. Children this young do not have the fine motor control, dexterity and strength to use a chef's knife, and should not be given one. I'm sorry, but I can't condone that.

          1. re: amyzan

            I guess it really does depend on the kid's developmental level, yes. I started my daughter (now 14) on her knife skills when she was 8. (Back when I was a Cub Scout leader, I had eight-year-old boys who were carving out their Pinewood Derby cars with knives, so maybe I didn't even think about it vis-a-vis the kitchen) But I did not start her on a large heavy chef's knife. I have a giant affection for the lightweight and sharp Kiwi knives from Thailand. Very nimble and easy to handle (not just for smaller hands, but for, say an arthritic hand). Still my daughter's favorite knife. BUT! if you choose to teach the skill, the supervision and quality of the instruction must be high.

      2. I like the gourmet versions of kid friendly food (like chicken tenders, fish filet, etc). Cooking/Baking is great for math skills! I suggest going to the library & letting her look through some simple cookbooks & choose recipes, that way she is not just limited to what you have/know, and she'll be even more motivated. Hey, she might find something new to you!

        1. My daughter is eight. Right now she loves to mix up pasta when I make a flour well and I put the eggs inside. It's really fun for her to try to mix it up w/out breaking the well. And, she loves using the pasta machine to roll the dough, too. Any kind of dough where you knead is good, especially pizza because they get to stretch it to shape and then make their own. She likes helping out with making cookies (or eating them hot from the oven). Something she can do almost by herself is make rice krispie treats. It's simple but all I need to do is be there and she can almost do the rest (except pouring out the rice krispie mix from the pan). It's nice for them to be able to something with little help.

          1. My granddaughters, 4 & 6 like to scramble eggs, make pancakes( I measure everything out and let them put it together); ice cream (this is really fun- they can help with the mix and dump everything into the freezer and then do the add-ins without hurting themselves). Anything that has to be assembled is fun, like lasagana, enchiladas. When my sons were small I used to sit them on the counter while I cooked and they are both good cooks.

            1 Reply
            1. re: emilief

              This was me... scrambled eggs and almost anything in a pan. That turned into a passion for bread making, and anything that required yeast (loved to watch it come alive) and kneading.

              One of the first recipes I ever cooked for the family was Cornflake Chicken. Simple and just hands on enough to be satisfying at age 6. Aside from eggs, pancakes, french toast, and the like, the other thing I remember making early on was "Toad in Hole," and I just thought it was so cool sliding the egg into that perfect hole.

              There' a great cookbook for kids; I'm' blanking on the name, but it's got a red and white checkerboard background to its cover. Some great simple, easy, and relatively good tasting dishes in it. The best thing about kids interested in cooking is that they are not only food inclined and more adventuresome, but they're more likely to taste b/c they've made it themselves and want to prove how great it is.

            2. Whem my husband was about 8, his mom bought him a cookbook for children. The recipes are basic, but items they can do with little assistance (a nice complement to the more advanced things y'all can do together). Now, at 31, he still has the little cookbook. It sits proudly on the shelf next to our Joy of Cooking and Le Gastronomique. And, I adore my MiL for creating a wonderful man who is an excellent cook!

              1. What about something that has a lot of little pieces that need to be assembled - e.g. pizza, lasagna, Mexican, even Asian dumplings and they can make little dumpling shapes with their little hands. (and maybe they won't get tired of doing it like I do!)

                Or desserts like cupcakes, cookies, cakes, that need decorations!

                1. My niece and Goddaughter Taylor (see avatar for incredible cuteness) is going to be 9. She has been active in the kitchen with me since she was just 2 1/2. Now she is getting a little more crafty in the kitchen and likes to be extremely creative. The things she has conquered and still going strong with are: (side note, she is allowed to use a small sharp paring knife under my supervision. She is also on a chair in the kitchen with her own cutting board. Hands washed to the elbow, sleeves up, hair in a pony)

                  eggs/omelettes (beat/grate/dice/fold in...in charge of toast and pouring juice)
                  french toast (beat, soak, butter and syrup)
                  pancakes (mixing, now starting to flip, butter and syruping them)
                  chicken (breading, stuffing, mixing marinades, glazing)
                  pork chops (breading, marinating, stuffing)
                  hamburgers/meatballs (mixing/rolling or shaping)
                  grilled cheese and pb&j
                  sauce for meatballs (learning to eyeball spices)
                  potatoes (mixing with spices for oven fried, adding ingredients and mixing for mashed)
                  salads (mixing scratch dressings and cutting veggies)
                  cupcakes/brownies (enough said)
                  broccoli salad (the only way she eats broccoli)
                  fresh veggie for the grill prep (helping wash, dry, slice and brush marinades on
                  kebobs ( small size latex gloves, she threads the meat and veggies)
                  crock pot apple butter (slicing pared apples and adding spices..using the imersion blender after it cooks down)
                  jam (slicing the strawberries and mixing the sugar and pectin)

                  It's endless. Just keep simple rules in play and have alot of patience. Pretty soon, she will be schooling you in the kitchen.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: chelleyd01

                    Wonderful list, chelley. And like you said... endless.

                    I started fostering knifework, supervised, at age 8, making sure to reoeat sctive demonstration displays of "what can go wrong in what situations" with a knife.

                  2. Don't forget the value of the lessons to come as the child's understanding of mathematics increases. Comparing prices; calculating "which size is the best buy"; noting the difference in prices at different markets for same items (along with the "freshness" component). Also reading labels. All of these will pay off in saving many many dollars over a lifetime.

                    Remember to pace the math according to where they are with that subject. School curricula differ, as do the individual math whiz, but until 7th or 8th grade monitor your expectations with what they are getting in school. By 8th grade they have been given all the tools they need for price comparison.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: FoodFuser

                      Great suggestions all! And thanks for the reminder on math, I hadn't thought about that piece of added bonus. I should have included the information that my niece is primarily eating a vegetarian and fish diet from the start. So she likes vegetables a lot.

                      Keep them coming!

                      1. re: FoodFuser

                        Doubling/halving recipes for baking is excellent fractions practice - I've been baking since I was 8 and I'm a fractions whiz...

                        It was Betty Crocker who started me down the slippery slope (her old-school cookbook with simple but from-scratch recipes). You can fill up an entire boring summer afternoon walking to the store, getting ingredients, and making a lemon-meringue pie by hand and from scratch... (and coloring the filling snot green to surprise and delight your 5-year-old brother...)

                      2. I was always involved in whatever was being cooked rather than what was being cooked being amended to suit my helping. That would mean I was involved in weighing, stirring, mixing, making doughs, cakes, assembling lasagne, frying things, braising things. Whatever was going on in the kitchen. (With the exception of deep frying and melting sugars - although I remember being allowed to stir jam...) My first cooking memory - and one of my earliest ever memories is of dropping an egg my mother had given me to carry to my father to make the yorkshire pudding batter to have with sunday dinner. (Thankfully we had one more egg in the fridge!)

                        1. You can also make sushi with your daughter as a way to introduce her to Asian cooking. Simple rolls like california rolls do not require too much equipments and the ingredients are simple and healthy. You can also use a lot of fish and vegetables! To round it up as a meal you can make some miso soup with her, and may be some Japanese ramen or udon.

                          1. I just made ravioli with my 5 year old--he loved it.

                            Krissywats crackers are also easy and VERY good.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Funwithfood

                              What are Krissywats crackers? Forgive a Canadian...

                              1. re: Funwithfood

                                oh funwithfood, you reminded me that my mom taught me to make dumplings when I was small! We still make dumplings together nowadays! (though not very often).

                              2. One unexpected benefit of cooking with kids comes as a result of observing kitchen safety: the learning of proper handwashing! I'm pretty rigid about kitchen/food cleanliness and if you don't wash, you don't cook. My kids just adopted the habit at early ages and a result I haven't had to make the typical harangues about hand-washing. Serendipity, I guess.

                                Oh, and the cooking skills they learn are great too. :)

                                You'll have a great time cooking with your niece - so many nice ideas on this thread.

                                1. This book might be helpful. "Kids can cook".

                                  The author is a straightforward author of several very simple vegetarian cookbooks.