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teaching cooking to kids (8y/o)

I have been nominated to do a cooking demo for a group of 8 y/o girls, and there are around 8 of them (fortunately some kids think I’m awesome because I feed them when they visit). I’m thinking something eas(ier) hands-on and obviously the kiddos will try.

I feel like it is my responsible for their cooking lives, as this may be the 1st thing they ever made (the general observation is that chicken nuggets and turkey sandwiches on white bread is a food group). I’d like to incorporate some kind of veggie (if possible).

Given the attention spans of kids, I suppose certain things would not fly (eg. Brasing or soups).

I was thinking making pizza- make dough? And baking your own pizzas
Quick breads that can be made in a single bowl and or cookies
Make focaccia (faster yeast bread?) and make some grilled sandwiches
Mac and cheese baked in personal ramekins (this leaves the béchamel mainly to me)
Pate au choux - cheesy ones filled with chicken salad and sweets filled with ice cream

What would you do? How young were you when you cooked your first thing?

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  1. How long is the demo? If you have time to make two items, I would go for pizza and dessert.

    Pizza is my favorite idea since the kids can pick and choose how they want to prepare it. Prepare a batch of dough with the girls, and have a batch of dough already prepared. They'll use the already prepared dough to make their pizzas, and the dough that they prepared will be sent home as kind of a "party favor" with the baking instructions.

    After the dough is mixed and set to rise, split the girls into groups, and have topping statings. The kids will rotate thru the stations, so everyone gets a taste of all preparations. Slicing veggies, grating cheese, prepping olives, setting out ricotta and spices and sauce...

    When it's time to assemble, explain the basic principles of shaping dough and applying toppings. Thicker dough for chewier pizza, thinner dough for crispier pizza, evenly placed toppings...

    3 Replies
    1. re: cheesecake17

      pizza was my first idea too. that was something we enjoyed making when my sister and i were kids. I like your idea with the extra pizza dough.

      we have around around 3 hours to do everything. maybe we'll just make some pizzokies... =)

      1. re: jeniyo

        For dessert- make a few sauces to go on top of store bought vanilla ice cream. A fruit sauce (strawberry, raspberry) and a homemade hot fudge. Let the kids chop walnuts or pecans and have a 'make your own sundae' type dessert.

        1. re: cheesecake17

          This is terrific. Heat some cream and pour it over a chopped bittersweet chocolate bar, whisk... the kids won't know what hit them. Sic one of them with a potato masher over some thawed frozen raspberries. The good, real flavors will burn into their memories forever.

          I like the pizza thing too.

    2. I have very vivid memories of taking an aftershool cooking class at my school when I was about this age and it definitely left an impression on me and is absolutely part of the reason I love to cook so much today.

      Things I remember: Going shopping for ingredients at the local grocery store with the instructor, banana bread and Swedish meatballs (the teacher was Swedish). I think the main things that really turned me on was: a. watching something go from the store to a bowl to something that tasted great; and b. that I could do it/it was simple enough for a kid to do in their own kitchen under mom/dad's supervision. In terms of vegetables, I'm torn between trying to get the kids to like them early and not wanting to turn them off to cooking altogether because vegetables are icky...

      3 Replies
      1. re: StheJ

        ah- Banana bread is the first thing we made in my first cooking class in middle school also! I remember my friend brought a big bag of the nastist looking bananas ever for our group. Ours are the best =)

        it's the girls birthday so i'm thinking there is a cake involved. i'm thinking of making cookies - maybe those cookie dough where you can encase a small piece snickers as the "filing"

        1. re: jeniyo

          Maybe small cakes so they can mix different icing colors and frost one themselves?

          1. re: StheJ

            that is such a neat idea! i think the girls would enjoy decorating cakes!

      2. What about mac and cheese and chicken nuggets but better versions than they're used to having? You can have them dip the chicken nuggets or shake them in bags full of buttermilk/eggs and then dip in bread crumbs w/ parmesan cheese. Spray and bake. Mac and cheese--use Alton Brown's recipe or Cook IIlustrated's recipe that use evaporated milk and eggs, instead of a bechamel sauce. It's fun for them to grate real cheese and they can do almost the whole thing themselves. Have them make a salad w/ various vegetables and make a dressing they can taste and season for themselves.

        1. A restaurant I worked at did cooking classes for adults & children...in the kids classes, pizza was a favorite. I was the restaurant's baker so I made up a bunch of pizza dough and measured it out into 3 ounce portions...then the chef teaching the class would let the kiddies make up dough and they'd swap it out for my dough. They then rolled it out & topped it with their choice of toppings and I'd bake it off for them. Healthy sandwiches (some toasted) and dips for veggies, were other popular items as well as cookie dough and filled individual pies.

          1. Dessert pizza might be an option.
            One batch of dough for regular (veggie!) pizza (a great cheese substitute can be made with cashews and red bell pepper in a VitaMix (or blender) and for dessert pizza.
            There are some good easy no-bake cookies or freezer fudge recipes. I like the quick bread idea.
            If you don't already know, I would check first to see if any of them has allergies or food restrictions because it's a real bummer to help make food that you then can't or shouldn't eat.
            Sweet potato cookies or zucchini bread also come to mind.

            2 Replies
            1. re: lgss

              i was going to recommend zucchini muffins as well. you could do a whole muffin array -- zucchini, blueberry cornmeal, cinnamon streusel, etc

              1. re: Emme

                Apple peanut butter muffins if no peanut/nut allergies...

            2. For me I would start with cookies, this is the first thing I learned to make and I think it's probably the first thing a lot of cooks learn to make. Also they are probably much more likely to go home and make them as opposed to pizza or any of those others. It's a good not so scary way to get used to working in the kitchen.

              1. eggs often tend to be popular/fun with kids... you could teach a few preparations like scrambled, poached, hard/soft-boiled, and Toad-in-a-Hole.

                baked chips (avoid the mess, fat, and parental supervision really required aspect of fried) - potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, rutabagas, etc all slice, seasoned, laid on a baking sheet and baked til crispy

                lasagna is easy - fun to layer with hands, and mix cheese and herbs with hands... it's a very hands-on dish ;)

                i'd also try to teach them one or two things that they can do totally on their own i.e. tuna salad or mixed dip with pre-cut veggies

                3 Replies
                1. re: Emme

                  I love the idea of baked chips... but 8 year olds and knives or a mandoline? Doesn't mix to me..

                  1. re: cheesecake17

                    might be able to have parents help on that part, then allow the kids to lay them out and season...

                    1. re: cheesecake17

                      What about that kale "crack" recipe that is everywhere? No knives required and I reckon most of those 8 year olds are not kale fans but will be won over by the salty goodness.

                  2. Pizza is a great idea. My nieces are around this age and I find if you give them the freedom to be creative, they'll eat what they make. Tell the girls that part of making a pizza is using as many colors as they can. I'd have baby spinach, red bell peppers, black olives, sliced tomatoes, fresh basil, etc. available as toppings. If they're told to make it colorful, they won't just stick to the pepperoni (which you should also have) and might learn that they actually like certain veggies!

                    I wouldn't make cookies or another dessert if there's going to be a bday cake. Kids have enough sweets in their lives.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: mojoeater

                      the color strategy is a great idea. because i'm afraid we have some cheese pizza eaters in the group.

                      when we were kids, it is always about the toppings. i guess people are just different.

                    2. I agree with the pizza idea but I'd also second the pate a choux as well. The idea with both is to make things that they can adapt themselves. I've done this with my cousins and most of them are lifelong cooks (one makes a mean pho!). Just to make sure the pizza making is as interactive as possible, if you have a stand mixer you can have the kids measure out the ingredients as you put it in the mixer and get it to the point where it's coming together and then portion it out to have the kids knead it themselves. The kids I know love working things with their hands. And then while the dough is rising, you can work with them to prep ingredients - cut veggies, grate cheese etc.

                      For the pate a choux, you can have the kids do all the stirring as you put the ingredients in the pot. Strong arms are great when the eggs have to be incorporated. Then work with them on making different kinds sauces - chocolate, vanilla, raspberry to go on top of ice cream stuffed profiteroles.

                      And i cooked my first dish at age six, toast with caramelized onions.

                      1. Things I've made with Dana Zsofia (now six): pancakes, scrambled eggs, banana bread, muffins, fresh lumpia, pizza on pita bread, artichokes (in the MW), baked and mashed potatoes (MW), hash browns (oven), fish (MW), stemaed broccoli and miso dressing, French carrot soup, creamed celery soup, yogurt, steamed whole fish, quesadillas, toasted cheese sandwiches, plus easy sauces, dips, sipping sauces, and gravies.

                        And why no boys in the cooking demo??

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                          Sam, you ought to *know* the answer to that. Eight year old girls still think boys are "yucky."

                          1. re: shaogo

                            (Unfortunately) Dana Zsofia doesn't think that boys are yucky. At all!

                        2. While pizza is a logical choice due to its popularity with kids of all ages, I'd say use some of these other great suggestions because they may have done pizza before since it is done so often. My 6th grader just made pizza at school in his family life class.

                          One of the best cooking experiences my kids had was making pasta but that might be tricky with a larger group.

                          1. Keep it simple. 8 year olds can only absorb so much information at a time and if you try to include more than one dish you're likely to lose them. Because there's a lot more to learning to cook that preparing a recipe, I'd suggest something that uses a mix (cakes, cookies, a pizza dough) and let them learn how to handle the prepared ingredient, measure the added ingredients, prepare the stove or oven, safety in handling utensils and appliances, etc. A simple corn flake cookie recipe might be fun.

                            1. My grandma always let me "invent" veggie dip. I'd get plain yogurt and/or sour cream and a collection of herbs and I would combine and taste until I liked it. If you edit the selection (dried onion, paprika, chives etc.) I loved doing this, and if you limit the seasonings they can't make anything too nasty. Plus they may be more likely to eat carrots (or whatever). Maybe they could do this while the pizzas are baking?

                              1. Don't underestimate your students. I am sure they are capable of your proposed menu. Last year a wonderful teacher at my child's school taught an after-school cooking class to a group of mixed 1st - 3rd graders. Referring to the folder she handed out, the items she taught were biscotti, cream pasticcera, ragu alla Bolognese,and pizza di patate. Not only did my first grader produce those items in class an bring them home, she has since used the biscotti recipe to win first place at our state fair. The recipes were not dumbed down for kids at all. If you feel up to it, go for it. The kids can handle it.

                                If you still want to bake focaccia, you might try this recipe from King Arthur:
                                You can vary the toppings as you like and it really does taste quite good. There's still a 1 hour rise, though.

                                And I started cooking with my mother when I was 3 or 4. Same with my child.

                                Good luck and have fun!

                                1. http://www.smallcooks.com/category/10...

                                  My younger children love this site and you might find some fun recipes and inspiration for your cooking lesson. Enjoy!

                                  And this is a young (9 yrs) food blogger!

                                  1. For an 8 year old, making pizza has got to be one of the coolest things on earth.

                                    Pate choux is a stretch for kids that young, I think. But I must qualify that I'm not a great baker and I think (good) pate choux is kind of a hassle.

                                    A group of eight year old girls could also make "tea sandwiches." Sandwich-making is a skill that should be taught at that age (I was). I'm not talking watercress or cucumber sandwiches (although you could cover those fancies if you have time). Basic versions of sandwiches that they're going to have to make for themselves in the future are great to put together. Egg salad, cold cuts, perhaps an all-veggie option.

                                    I'd love to know how this turns out. Over the years, one of the highlights of my career has been talking to young ones about foods and cooking. I can always tell the budding young 'hounds from the rest of the crowd.