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Kinda complicated, kid cooking dinner advice needed

I have a kid friend (13) who loves to cook but has pretty much considered herself topped out at french toast. Her younger sister's going through serious chemo/radiation treatments three hours away (with Mom away too) so she's/the family's often eating whatever nice neighbors have brought or her Dad brings home for easy re-heat. They whole family is lovely and appreciative for absolutely everything that shows up, but I would like to expand my friend's cooking repertoire/comfort level when she cooks at my house and give her glowing reviews when she cooks for the family.

I am specifically looking for things she could prepare with me and reheat and/or cook at home for her family.

The family seems to have very unspicy palates and may be historically mid-western in their likes. My friend likes to experiment and try new things her sibs don't appreciate.

We made pot stickers together (though I had to rechop most of her veggies) and the pot stickers were a big hit both here and at home. But now I'm looking for something she could make at my house and later make at hers. (This means no fine dicing, for now.)

Her family avoids cow-based dairy and I don't know how much meat they eat. (I do know that I'm a pretty lame meat cook.)

Suggestions on what we ought to make for our next cooking adventure? We are generally limited to an hour or so for cooking but I am happy to shop (and chop, if needed) to make delectable happen.

Thank you soooo much for any and all ideas you might share!!

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  1. Is thirteen too young to cook pasta, I wonder? Obviously, you'd have to have a special recipe for mac and cheese, but there are so many options for cheeses.

    2 Replies
    1. re: miki

      Her favorite dish ever is angel hair pasta with shrimp. Thanks for reminding me! I think this is something she could do with her eyes closed after doing it with her eyes wide open. (I loooooove mac and cheese and we have a great local goat cheese dairy so will see what we can do.)

      1. re: miki

        Hummus goes well with pasta instead of the cheese.

      2. I was that age in junior high home ec class, where I think the first thing we learned to cook was tuna casserole - the cream of mushroom soup, milk, and potato chips version.
        Adding some frozen peas before baking would give it a little more flavor and eye-appeal.

        I'd teach her Shake&Bake chicken. Potatoes can be put in the oven while it is preheating and if they are on the small side, will be baked by the time the chicken parts are done. Also, boneless chicken breasts are versatile in that if you teach her to saute them, they can be sauced in a number of ways. Stir-fries are coarse chopping friendly.

        Sauteeing broken-up ground beef and onions is an easy thing for novice cooks and is fine just over potatoes or can be turned into spaghetti sauce or sloppy joes.

        This young lady is fortunate to have a thoughtful neighbor like you looking out for her; all the best to all of you.

        5 Replies
        1. re: greygarious

          Great ideas! I will see if they're into tuna casserole (or, as it was called in my home, tuna wiggles).

          And your shake and bake idea is FAB! Reminded me of this recipe from epicurious: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo... that has gone over exceptionally well with kids of all ages.

          Thanks for the well wishes. She's a GREAT kid and I'm super lucky to have met the whole family through her. Truly exceptional people.

          1. re: miss louella

            Shake and Bake is still one of our old reliables. Around here, so is American Chop Suey which is basically sauted ground beef, onion, seasoning, can of tomatoes, small can of tomato sauce, and elbow macaroni. One of my son's favorite dishes.

            I would also consider some soup recipes like chicken and rice soup. And teach her how to make gravy and a simple roast chicken. If the family eats beef, beef stew and beef pot roast . I always serve pot roast with Near East Rice Pilaf with peas added.

            Foods that re-heat and even taste better the next day are good.

            1. re: dfrostnh

              Roast chicken is probably too much for a young teenager. For kids that age, just touching raw meat is supremely yucky. The thought of sticking her hand inside one, rubbing reasonings on the skin, and bending/breaking joints will likely send her running for the nearest purveyor of deep-fried nuggets. Beginning cooks, regardless of age, usually stick with meats/poultry that is already in smaller pieces that cook quickly, and later on they develop a sense for slower and combination temp cooking styles.

              1. re: greygarious

                I'm not sure - I suppose it depends on the kid. When I was just younger than that, my mom 'taught' me to cook by leaving detailed notes about dinner. One of my favorites is the first one she wrote for a whole chicken - "Take chicken from fridge. Wash chicken. Do *not* use soap. Dry chicken. Do *not* use the dish towels..." I was giggling even then and managed my way through the rest of it without even thinking of the 'ick' factor. And if you're 12 or 13 and cook a whole chicken, you really feel like you know how to cook. Big confidence builder :)

              2. re: dfrostnh

                can also experiment with your own shake and bakes - recently we did pork chops in Fiber One cerial that I ground up (or smashed) - just added salt & pepper - it was fantasticly sweet and salty.

          2. You're kind to help, and surely, anything you will do will be very appreciated.

            Maybe some one-dish type cooking, such as chili, spaghetti and (turkey) meatballs.fajitas, chow mein (if you wanted to go a little more exotic, pad thai), skewers/yakitori, humus/pita as part of a mediterranean spread... breakfast for dinner like blintzes...

            1. How to bake potatoes.
              Then make toppings for them.
              Veggies and cheese on them.
              And maybe even how to make baked potato soup.

              Soups: Split pea...she'll feel so sophisicated when you teach her to make croutons for a topping.
              How to make a congealed salad-starting with jello.

              Variation on a theme: Bread pudding- she already almost knows this recipe from French Toast.

              1. Now that you mention breakfast....Omelets for sure, but the fine points of scrambling and frying eggs, and bacon, will serve her well. Granted, it's mostly a matter of learning not to use high heat as a shortcut, but that's a lesson everyone needs to learn (usually the hard way). You should get a look at her family's cooking equipment, feel the thickness of the pans, and teach her a little about the differences. She would probably have more success if you could sometimes teach her in HER home rather than yours, given how diffferent equipment yields different results, so that her confidence doesn't flag if she is unsuccessful in trying to duplicate something she cooked on your stove in your pots.

                1. My advice would be to teach her how to prepare items for the oven and less on the stove top. Since there is a level in comfort with items like shake and bake as mentioned above, follow along those lines...... only teach her how to season simply with salt, pepper and something like a Mrs. Dash product. Nothing beats an oven roasted chicken for taste and simplicity, like (dfrostnh) suggested above.. Even though celebrity personalities are often crucified on this site, have the Food Network on while you spend your time together. I;m not suggesting you both pay your full attention to it, but when something comes on that's interesting, you can both stop and watch and discuss recipes and techniques afterward. Teach her how to make recipes that are easy.....like the green bean casserole with mushroom soup added.......

                  1. shephards pie and canadian pork pie are a nice one dish meal and easy.

                    1. Another vote for roasted chicken. Teach her how to roast one of those big 5-7 lb. suckers, then she will have leftovers and can plan another meal. You can show her how to make chicken tetrazizni casserole and use chicken stock to make veloute sauce. She can also make chicken enchiladas. A big MW hit is Johnny Marzetti, a great hamburger/pasta/tomato casserole. You can eliminate the cheese topping, if necessary. You can also get a pot roast ready to roast in one hour (brown meat & veggies, make sauce) and then have her roast it at home.

                      Invest some time in teaching her knife skills as well as the value of cleaning up as you cook (my kids score low on this one!)

                      I learned how to cook for the whole family at 12. Due to circumstances, my mother had to return to work full time and she and Grandma taught me how to make dinner so we could eat when we got home.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Diane in Bexley

                        Not to go off-topic in this generous thread, but I wonder if people can suggest the most fool-proof way for a 13-year-old to get chicken temperature right--as underdone could be unsafe and overdone disappointing? Maybe buy her an instant-read thermometer?

                        Also, of course, she'd need some serious moments devoted to handling raw chicken safely.

                        1. re: Bada Bing

                          I think ANYONE of ANY age should have an instant read thermometer. I consider it the most important tool in my kitchen.

                      2. I started cooking around 13 and many of my staples centered around ground beef: Sloppy Joes, Spaghetti with meat sauce, Tacos, meatballs. I used the stove top much more than the oven (usually because I was cooking in a hurry). I also cooked a lot of stir-frys and stews/chillis in the crock pot.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: thegirlwholovestoeat


                          Midwest "goulash," spaghetti and meatballs, tacos, and sloppy joes were also on our menu and things I cooked starting around age 10, and they all work with ground turkey or ground chicken.

                          To the OP: teach this girl knife skills and make sure she has one good knife -- not those crappy micro-serrated (n)ever-sharp kinds. There's nothing that'll sap the joy from cooking faster than thinking the prep work takes FOREVER, when in reality you just need a good knife!

                          Also, all of the ground beef ideas that have been mentioned can be made with lentils if they are wanting to avoid meat altogether.

                        2. I'd suggest getting her a kid-friendly cookbook, then trying out some of the recipes together. Once you've done them together, she can probably do them again by herself. I remember cooking fairly often at that age, and I had a favorite cookbook called Kid's Cooking (http://www.amazon.com/Kids-Cooking-Sl...) (I can't believe it's still available in the same edition, I had that thing 20 years ago.) That particular cookbook might be a bit below her, age-wise, but it looks like there are many others out there, like this Southern Living one (http://www.amazon.com/Southern-Living...


                          I remember making oven-baked fish sticks, spaghetti, tacos, and pizza (with pre-made crust). As far as cooking with her and having her reheat, I would do some big batches of soup, like vegetable soup, black bean soup, and chili. Of course lasagna would be good too, though I don't know how that would go with non-cow based dairy.

                          For the lack of dicing ability, does her family have a small food processor, or do you have one you could lend her? That's how I chopped onions and garlic practically until I left for college (both because I have an overprotective mom and quite sensitive tearducts). Very helpful.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: General Knowledge

                            Emeril's book for kids is very food too.


                            And you suggestion about the food processor is right on, Knife skills are tough on young ones and most of the scare me with a knives.

                          2. That's about the age when I started cooking. Spaghetti, lasagna (american style - no bechmel) tacos, "enchiladas," and minestrone soup were my main dishes for years. Also main course salads. I remember lasagna being a huge production, but being so proud of myself at the end. I liked making minestrone soup and the salads because I could improvise. V8 was my soup base, and I used the individually frozen chicken breasts thrown in the broiler for the salads.

                            1. I bet your friend could master risotto.

                              It can be done with parm, and butter.

                              Some add ins could be:

                              Mild white fish
                              Asparagus tips.

                              The fish will disolve in to the rice as will the asparagus. You can also add sauteed chicken to it.
                              I do hope their family is doing well and her younger sister is comfortable and recovers.

                              1. I know my daughter was already pretty competent in the kitchen by that age. If she likes to cook I would expect she can learn a few key skills quickly. I think some poeple are setting the bar pretty low in that regard.

                                Definitely keep working with her on knife skills. Especially since the prep steps will be done with you at her side, and the finishing steps done at her home.

                                I know my cooking adventure started with red sauce. Once you can make a decent red sauce, so many options open up. So a simple spaghetti sauce would be my choice. Chopping the onion, celery, green pepper... maybe use a garlic press for the garlic, or just get a jar of prepared raw garlic... learning a basic saute... learning how to season with salt, pepper, basil, oregano... maybe even learning to garnish with some fresh herbs. Served with plenty of grated parmesian... Its as simple as it needs to be with plenty of subtle tricks that are easy to learn, and it comes out good no matter what. And the basic skills are universal.

                                If she gets that down, chilli is the next step. And when she has that down, she's ready for college!

                                Roast chicken might be a bit much. Or not, if she uses a roasting bag.

                                Meatloaf would be another simple, hearty dish to prepare ahead and bake before serving.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: BernalKC

                                  As my mother in law would say "you're doing God's work" Miss Louella. It sounds like a win win to me. I hope everything works out - it's heartbreaking to hear what some people go through. Best wishes.

                                  How about tacos? Very easy, and can be a fun dinner at the same time.
                                  A big pot of chilli might be nice also.

                                  Again, I sincerely hope things improve.

                                2. Thanks for all the GREAT suggestions! I've got her covered on the quality knife; I think her knife is better than mine!

                                  And it's so very charming how many of you think I'm kidding when I say I'm a lame meat cook. I can just about manage chicken thighs or mush together ground something that is a component in something else (don't really care for meat so haven't spent time learning it). Fortunately her family isn't too carnivorous so that's worked out pretty well.

                                  I think she and I will go to the library and browse cookbooks and if we find one she likes, it just might show up under her tree. ;-) Love the idea of her having a reference when I'm not around.

                                  Also tacos are PERFECT. Her sibs and parents have very different tastes, so we could set up a taco bar kind of thing. Lots of fab ideas, thanks EVERYONE--it's so nice to turn here when I'm floundering!

                                  Thanks again (and still).

                                  1. You sound lovely. I was into cooking as a kid and I would say that at 13, she might feel a little old for specifically kid-oriented cookbooks (they can be pretty juvenile.) All my successful early cooking ventures came from the Better Homes and Gardens (Red Plaid) cookbook. I would say it is basic enough for a novice cook, definitely caters to the midwestern palate, and will feel delightfully grown-up. Plus it has handy reference info. I remember making a beautiful lemon meringue pie from this all on my own when I was about ten that pretty much cemented my love of cooking forever. Perhaps it isn't very "chowish," but I think it is just the thing for a brand new cook!

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: LolaP

                                      Totally agree with LolaP. I can vividly remember this cookbook, the ringbound edition to be specific. Simple recipes with few steps, clear as a bell. Takes me back.

                                      1. re: BernalKC

                                        Totally. The version with metal binder rings is the best! If you have some favorites you want to teach her that aren't in the book, you can punch holes in them and add them in for her. This was my go-to from childhood though college. For specific menu suggestions, how about chili and corn bread? Pretty hard to goof up that one.

                                        1. re: LolaP

                                          Yes! I grew up on that book too! Excellent suggestion; I'll see if I can find a copy for us to try out.

                                          Just to complicate things a teeny bit more, we're at 7100 feet; we've done cookies and quick breads, and the artisan bread in 5, but I mostly stick to pedestrian baked goods.

                                    2. Stuffed shells, either ricotta and spinach or meat, can be made in double batch and frozen.

                                      Meatballs, great for soup, spaghetti, subs, whatever.

                                      Stew or curry. I was very proud of my "curried lamb" at this age, which was basically lamb, onions, yogurt and the most minute amount of curry powder possible.

                                      Waffles. I was also a fan of making crepes at this age.

                                      In general, the kids I know tend to enjoy the process of cooking, rolling meatballs, etc. By the time you're 45 there are plenty of days when you just want to get the food on the table, but at 13 it's all kind of fun and exciting.

                                      have you thought about baking? I know it's not dinner, but there is something relaxing and meditative about rolling cookies or kneading bread.

                                      1. You've already gotten so much good advice, but let me add that when I started cooking in earnest, I was perhaps 14 or 15, my go-to cookbook was Mollie Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook. It's vegetarian and perhaps a dated by it's 70s hippie origins. Still, she does a good job of explaining steps in a friendly, clear, and quaintly illustrated way. I think it's great match for a teenager. Maybe one to flip through on your library outing.

                                        You're very kind to take time for this and I wish your friend and her family the best during this difficult time.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: poundcake

                                          I have a Moosewood Daily Special (I think?) cookbook that's mostly soups and salads- it would definitely be good for a kid this age. In fact, I rarely use it because most of the recipes are too simple and obvious for me.

                                        2. I was thinking about the times she would be cooking at home without an adult and wondering if a large pot of boiling water with pasta was such a great idea, especially when it comes to draining. But I'm sure it depends on the kid. Maybe the oven is safer.

                                          Anyway, one thought I had are parchment/foil packages you could assemble together and she could put in the oven at dinner time. So some thinly sliced potatoes, other vegetables, a little stock, butter and chicken or fish. I'm sure specific recipes are easy to find.

                                          The thing my Mom taught me - along similar lines - is to put a thin layer of sliced potatoes (or rice) on the bottom of a casserole dish and layer leeks, carrots and celery on top and a piece of chicken breast on that. At broth and few herbs and bake. The leeks really make this, but I suppose younger siblings might beg to differ. Comfort food in our house.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: waver

                                            Where I live, kids are about twelve when they start working with large pots of boiling water in Home Ec class.

                                          2. I just made this Saveur Macaroni and Cheese recipe. I know it would be fun to make with a 13 year-old, and she would have a full dish to take to her family. And it's real tasty, per my nine year-old son.....


                                            1. A couple of veggie ideas that I made for my mom when she had cancer and for another friend going through chemo (lots of protein). A tofu scramble-- I improvise mine but there are many recipes online-- usually firm tofu crumbled and sauteed in some oil with any variety of spices. You could serve with tortillas or fried potatoes. And for a sweet treat Alton Brown's Mooless Chocolate Pie (recipe is online). It's so easy and really, really good. A kids' cookbook I love is called The Fun of Cooking by Jill Krementz. I had it as a pre-teen and loved it-- it's from the late 80s so a bit dated. But for that reason it's not particularly trendy and the recipes are pretty classic-- not what grown ups think kids will like but what kids themselves cook. Each recipe is presented by a kid of a different age who is learning to cook. But it's not particularly vegetarian and definitely has its share of dairy. It's out of print but available on Amazon.

                                              1. I would say at 13, anything she'd like to eat, she'll be capable of learning to cook. She should be tall enough to be safe with the top of the stove and certainly strong enough to move big pots and things around. At 13, she's already reading things WAY more complicated than a recipe.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                  I'm only 40-ish - but at 13 I cooked everything. Roast turkey, homemade soups and stews, etc. Nothing really complicated, but really good food.

                                                2. How about teaching her how to use a crock pot? You can work with her on getting everything chopped/diced/etc. and then just leave the order of how to put everything in and when. She could be doing some pot roasts, stews, chili's, pulled pork, pork chops, etc.

                                                  Other things would be beef stroganoff or cheesy chicken and rice. You could also help her make a really great spaghetti meat sauce with diced green peppers, mushrooms, onions and tomatos. Then it is just reheating the sauce and making the noodles.

                                                  You say she has exhausted french toast. So for a different twist on a little treat, get some tubes of Pillsbury biscuits, create a little hole in the center (I use a small clean cap from a breath spray bottle). Fry these in some oil in a fry pay (usually about 1/2 inch of canola oil. Cook until brown on one side, then flip and repeat. Then roll in sugar, cinnamon sugar, powdered sugar or drizzle with some maple glaze. Instant fresh donuts! (don't forget to fry the "holes" as well. My 13 year old grandson makes these now!

                                                  You are a wonderful friend for doing this, and I wish the family all the best of luck and prayers.

                                                  6 Replies
                                                  1. re: boyzoma

                                                    if you're using crescent rolls or biscuits, try rolling them out, creating some sort of veggie filling, then baking for mini filled empanada type bites....

                                                    1. re: Emme

                                                      Using the crescent rolls, teach her how to roll up hot dogs in them and bake. Great for kids to make and eat. Goes good with mac & cheese!

                                                      1. re: boyzoma

                                                        Er, the "child" is 13. That sounds like a great dish for, say, a 4 y.o. As I said above, she's reading far more complicated things than recipes at this point, so I'd just sit down with a cookbook (good photos always inspire ME!) and have her pick something out and then have at it.

                                                        1. re: c oliver

                                                          Even tho she is 13, it is still a comfort thing. Heck - I still like them and so does my 13 year old GRANDSON!

                                                          1. re: boyzoma

                                                            Well, there's just a big difference at times between a comfort food and "real" cooking. Campbell's chicken noodle soup made with milk has been my #1 comfort food all my life (and I'm 62) but I don't consider it cooking. I'm just saying that at that age and stage she might get a real kick out of something more grown up. I also think that cheese souffles and creme brulee are comforting. Mmmm. Time for some lunch.

                                                            1. re: c oliver

                                                              Well, if you would of read my original post, I did give some other more "grown up" ideas. It was just the mention of the crescent rolls that sparked that idea and it would also be fun for a 13 year old. I never meant to imply the there weren't more adventurous dishes that could be made at that age.

                                                  2. i would opt for a couple of template dishes. for example, you can make a marinara sauce or soup following the same instructions and using the same skills, so in a short period of time she gets the basics, but a couple recipe cards send her down different paths. whats more, both sauce and soup can be pureed, which eliminates the need for honed knife skills. dishes like paella and curry also follow similar steps but with very different seasonings, yielding two supposedly different dishes.

                                                    if the family is vegetarian geared, i find that stuffing tomatoes or peppers with rice/bulgur wheat/etc along with whatever veggies are best loved is very simple, easy to make ahead and transport, and always delights and impresses company.

                                                    she is really lucky to have someone like you.

                                                    1. Teach her how to cook spaghetti and meatballs actually spaghetti and ground beef. Give her the option of using a jarred sauce or make some.

                                                      Definitely teach her how to do a pot roast in a dutch oven if she has one or a crock pot if she doesn't.

                                                      A stew is good and easy.

                                                      Finally teach her things that college kids need to know. Not how to be fancy but how to feed herself and her family.

                                                      Things like Chunky soup over rice. Ramen noodles with left over meat added. Boxed mac and cheese with left over meat added or cut up vienna sausages added. The wonders of Marie Callendar pot pies and the joy of fish sticks and tator tots. ( Man, I bet I started a firestorm with that comment.)

                                                      Bottom line is the kid has to learn how to get by and quickly. then she can learn gradually.

                                                      1. Thanks everyone for all these great ideas! She and I both decided that meat was not our thing (I'm pretty useless in the meat realm and she was unaware of the need to make patties before putting ground beef in a pan when she's aiming for hamburgers.) Anyway, we ended up mixing up prepared foods with home-made aspects. Favorites:

                                                        --store bought ravioli (usually portobella mushroom & ricotta cheese) with a veg (steamed or roasted); sometimes a "sauce" made of brocoli butter and garlic, sometimes a jar of red. (We made home made sauce once but she didn't feel like it was worth it.)

                                                        --artisan bread in 5 minutes a day. I loved her having fresh wwheat bread, she and her sibs loved having pizza at the ready. (Eventually we made up frozen dough/sauce/cheese so they could add vegs just before popping in the oven.)

                                                        Those were the only real hits. Besides that we focused on prepping vegs and knowing when they were done being steamed or roasted. And then we cooked large quantities so the vegs were just a warm-up away from being a part of dinner. Oh and we made lots of rolls of frozen cookie dough so she was just a slice away from nice hot toaster-oven cookies.

                                                        PS Her mom and sis are back home and sis is doing great.

                                                        1. I did food prep yesterday with 6 and 11 y.o. sisters. We made an enhanced version of Shepherd's Salad (added garbanzo beans and baby romaine). They had not had European/English/Armenian cucumber, red bell pepper, or tahini before. We talked the various ingredients including what part of a plant they are (leaf, root, seed, fruit). We plan to do more food prep in the future, probably hummus, then quinoa pilaf among others. They really liked the end result.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: lgss

                                                            They were fascinated that I brought them a parsley plant rather than just a bunch.