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Super simple recipes/ideas to involve kids in cooking

Hey all, I'm about to embark on a ten-day adventure with a dear friend (who does not cook) and her grandkids (who do not cook). The kids range in age from 3 to 10 and I'd like to involve them in the FUN of cooking. Not teaching knife skills, not menu planning, but the shear joy of making (or stirring) and consuming something delicious at home.

We will certainly pick cherry tomatoes from the garden and whatever else is ready when they're here, but I'm looking for more than just grazing.

So far I've landed on:

--popsicles (VERY open to ideas here, have some vague memory of a thread and will search soon)
--wacky cake
--hand-churned coconut ice cream (since it only requires coconut milk, maple syrup and some lime if you're feeling fancy)

Other ideas of things they'd delight in, would be super simple (for all of us), and won't make grandma run for the hills when I suggest playing with fire?

I'm totally fine with things that have the kids as involved as their enthusiasm/ability allows them. I am NOT thinking of this as culinary boot camp, rather as experiences they will fondly remember and which may spark interest for future adventures.

Thanks in advance!

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    1. re: ipsedixit

      I'd forgotten all about m&c! I'll see if maybe the 10 year old wants to be in charge of dinner for everyone!

    2. Personal pizzas are a HUGE hit with my almost 3 year old.

      I do home made dough (an interpretation of the grilled pizza dough from Serious Eats), divide out into single serve sizes (I toss some of them which ups the giggle factor, especially when they bounce off the ceiling) and then she helps me top them. I put out bowls of sauce, cheese, veggies, meats etc and she can assemble her own. Then I bake and she's so proud of "her" pizza. I"ve done this with a small play group (2 other kids) and it was a HUGE hit. Even making a cheese pizza was so exciting.

      We have a step stool which gets her up to counter height for assembly purposes, but older kids wouldn't need this

      3 Replies
      1. re: autumm

        Fabulous idea! I think we'll do this on the grill and let everyone toss some. (Of course I'll make LOTS of dough.)

        1. re: miss louella

          My now 5 year old LOVES making pizza and has been perfecting her technique now for a few years. In the beginning she needed more help spreading sauce and sprinkling cheese, but now she handles those tasks ably. Her favorite is to bake the pizza and then layer prosciutto on top of the hot pizza. Baking the prosciutto with the pizza makes it too chewy and hard, as she would tell you very earnestly. :-)

          1. re: miss louella

            You can also use good, flat pitas. Of course, making the dough is better, but if you are looking for a time saver.....and mess saver. Comes out crispy like a nice thin crust pizza. Plus, it cooks fast because the cheese just needs to melt. You can precook items, like bell peppers, if needed, and each kid can choose the toppings and get their pizza quick!

        2. Egg in a hole.
          Crepes. Fill with sour cream and jam or just sprinkle with lemon juice and powdered sugar.
          Waffles if you have an iron.
          Grilled cheese sandwiches. Cream cheese or peanut butter spread in celery sticks. Cut up apples, have with cheese and crusty bread and butter.
          Grill hot dogs.
          Have berries, make shortcake.
          Corn on the cob.
          Cut up fruit, make fruit salad.
          Make chocolate milk.

          1. Anything made in a blender is popular, kids love hitting the button! (Well, so do i :)
            Bean dip for your fresh veggies, or whatever dip.
            The frozen banana soft serve is always popular.

            Guacamole is great since after you do the cut in half and pit they can scoop and mash with a fork, squeeze in the lime juice, etc.

            If you have a food mill those are fun, you could make pasta sauce.

            No bake cookies work great too since there's no worry about snacking on the dough or lopsided uneven baked ones.

            1. French toast
              Cinnamon toast
              PB and J sandwiches
              Bologna and cheese sandwiches
              Butter cream frosting on graham crackers
              Rice crispy treats
              Canapes using any cracker and squeeze or squirt cheese

              1. Homemade granola

                soda bread

                shake cream in a jar to make butter (or use a mixer)

                Ziplock bag omelets

                1. This thread from a few months ago was about more of a class / demo event, but could hold some good ideas for you. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9615...

                  1 Reply
                  1. Things my kids have enjoyed making
                    Oreo truffles
                    Lasagne roll ups - you cook the the noodles for them, they can mix up a cheese and veggies filling and roll them up

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: cheesymama

                      the lasagne roll ups sound pleasingly messy!

                    2. Mummy hot dogs. You can use any type of bread dough you want, from crescent rolls to home made.


                      1. Second the make-your-own pizza idea. We use black olive slices for eyes and little slices of pepperoni for scales = pizza fish!
                        Also, make-your-own taco night is a hit with my 5yo.
                        Anything on a stick. Fruit kebabs and whipped cream dip.

                        1. One of my almost-4-year-old's favorite meals is breakfast for dinner. He helps measure ingredients for the pancake batter, cracks the eggs (into a separate bowl!), melts butter in the microwave, and stirs. And while I manage the griddle, he is responsible for making fruit salad: washing grapes and berries, peeling and cutting (using a table knife) bananas, and slicing strawberries (also with a table knife - I cut the stem ends off).

                          Also, don't forget to let the kids have some input into the menus. They'll be more engaged in cooking if they cook/assemble/otherwise contribute to dishes they want to eat!

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: truman

                            Yum, I love breakfast for dinner too. (And have very fond memories of when we got to do that as kids. Little did I know what a relief it was for my Mom to have us six kids eating cereal for dinner once in a while!)

                            And I will be sure to let them have input!

                            1. re: truman

                              Get one of these and you can have him hull the strawberries too - and its cuteness is a bonus! I'm not much for unitaskers and honestly I don't eat that many strawberries, but I still love this little thing.


                            2. The popsicle thread you are looking for is something like Cooking from Paletas and was an adjunct COTM (cookbook of the month) thread. I'm sorry I can't look it up for you - I'm on vacation and dealing with my husband's laptop and am finding it a bit of a PITA. Lulu and I have had a ton of fun making popsicles from that book. And a couple of weeks ago we made our first ice cream together - also lots of fun.

                              From as soon as she was able, I have involved Lulu in cooking. Something as simple as adding the (premeasured) spices or flour or whatever can make a kid feel some ownership over a dish. Omelets are great because the kid can choose what they want in each (just like with pizza). Quesadillas are simple and easy and kids love them. And a simple pasta with butter and parmesan works well too.

                              I think it is wonderful that you're doing this with/for these kids.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: LulusMom

                                Thanks, with your help, I found the link: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7990...

                                Enjoy your vacation!

                                1. re: THewat

                                  Yum, we can add that to our ice cream making day!

                                2. What about those pancakes that puff up in the oven?

                                  1. When my nephew was young (about 5-9), we did a lot of goofy things in the kitchen & started writing a cookbook (I wrote out recipes, he illustrated). He got older & we gravitated to doing other things but still remember that time fondly. I bought him different chefs' hats & gave him an apron -- he really liked that :)

                                    Easy things included apple jelly pie: he explained it something like
                                    Take a pie crust
                                    Fill it with apples
                                    Spread with apple jelly
                                    Sprinkle with cinnamon
                                    Bake & 350
                                    Enjoy your apple jelly pie!

                                    We also did several ice cream cakes. I'd buy a graham cracker or cookie crumb crust & we'd soften ice creams, spread them in crust, decorate with chocolate or whatever & freeze. Dreamsicle pie was good -- orange sherbet, vanilla ice cream & Andes chocolate mints on top.

                                    When he was very young I'd make cookie dough & we'd make it into different shapes & decorate & bake it.

                                    Our more complicated efforts had questionable results -- and eyerolls from his parents, who had to eat them ;)

                                    1. My son (4) enjoys helping out with baked goods -- muffins, pancakes etc. He likes dumping the (pre-measured) ingredients in the bowl and helping to mix. He gets really excited about mixing in an ingredient he particularly likes (like raisins or honey or cinnamon). He also enjoys making pesto in the food processor (pushing the button).

                                      I am intrigued by your coconut ice cream recipe. Does it taste good and if so would you share the recipe?

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: Westminstress

                                        Great ideas, thanks!

                                        I simplified the actual coconut recipes I'd found online to make ice cream camping with a no-lacto kid. Tastes great and it's SIMPLE.

                                        -One can coconut milk (full fat)--chilled if possible
                                        -pinch of salt
                                        -maple syrup to taste (the ice cream tastes less sweet when frozen)
                                        -half a lime (optional)
                                        -bunch of vanilla (I use lots of vanilla--hoping the alcohol impedes the hard-as-rock freezing)

                                        Mix it up in a bowl, then put it in the ice cream maker. (My ice cream maker is and old-fashioned hand crank one.)

                                        The ice cream is deeeeelicious.

                                        1. re: miss louella

                                          Thanks, I will try this! I have an ice-cream maker I'd like to use more. Often don't have time for custard, lots of prep, etc. so dump and churn recipes are great for me. How much (just roughly) maple syrup and vanilla would you use for a can of coconut milk?

                                          1. re: Westminstress

                                            I have always poured the syrup straight into the coconut milk, but I would guess about 1/4 cup? And probably a Tablespoon or so of vanilla (though that's always been freehand too). I don't like things super sweet, so definitely taste before you pour it into your ice-cream maker!

                                            1. re: Westminstress

                                              btw, if you just keep your can of coconut milk in the fridge, you're halfway to ice cream! (Just make sure to scrape out the fatty parts that stick to the can.)

                                        2. The Grands (7 - girl and 5 - boy) and I made chocolate dipped strawberries and blueberries. We had done it last year and they remembered. I gave them each a separate bowl of melted chocolate. Messy but fun and then they had fruit to eat later.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: MorseCat

                                            Perfect! I am particularly intrigued by the messy but fun ones, cause hey, I'm not the Mom, I can handle big messes and lots of laundry cause it's just a one-time adventure!

                                            1. re: miss louella

                                              chocolate dipped anything -- pretzels, bananas, etc.

                                              S'mores are a big hit. Kids can assemble the graham crackers and chocolate squares. the older ones can help toast marshmallows and the younger ones can squoosh them together.

                                              things my little one loves to help make (some of which have already been mentioned):
                                              - pizza,
                                              - pancakes,
                                              - quesadillas
                                              - muffins or other baked goodies, cookies, etc.
                                              - she loves helping chop vegetables, so incorporate that itno anything -- pizza toppings, veggies for soup or a big salad
                                              - she has helped make homemade chicken fingers in a cornflake crumb crust -- spread with dijon mustard first then coat with crumbs and bake after spraying w/olive oil spray (we also do fish the same way with a sprinkle of garlic and thyme) -- she likes to paint the dijon on with a silicone pastry brush.

                                              I say just pick some things that they like to eat and get them involved in all of the stages of prep -- chopping, assembly. that makes anything fun.

                                              We once used a rainy afternoon to make chocolate eclairs. We started with the pastry dough, piped the dough into "fingers" on the baking sheet, baked them and watched them puff up. we made a vanilla custard/pastry cream filling and also used TJs belgian chocolate pudding. also made a chocolate ganache glaze (also discovered that TJs fudge sauce warmed up works as a great short cut). Assembly was great fun, but not nearly as much as eating them!

                                              things with toppings that allow for individual choice go over well with little ones excited about their burgeoning independence -- think tacos, salads, burritos, pizzas, ice cream sundaes.


                                          2. chocolate dipped strawberries
                                            veggies and dip
                                            funny face sandwiches

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. My granddaughter, age 7, likes to make English muffin pizzas. Toast muffins, spread with pizza sauce, sprinkle with shredded mozzarella, top with pepperoni. Broil till cheese is bubbly.

                                              Some time back there was a discussion of French Yogurt Cake made using the yogurt container for measuring. It was simple and looked like fun. Maybe you could search the topic or maybe someone will come up with the recipe?

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: fleck

                                                Here is the link to the discussion regarding French Yogurt Cake, using the yogurt container to measure all the ingredients,

                                              2. I think things with dramatic transformations are good for kids -- my 8-9 y.o. nephew loved seeing whipped cream form in just a few minutes when we took turns whisking heavy cream by hand. Not sure if strawberries are in season where you are like they are around here, but that would be a great use for the result. Any knd of dough that rises is another good transformation - e.g., for pretzels, breadsticks, popovers, etc.

                                                Most kids love just about any kind of sweets-baking: cookies, cupcakes (decorated later = bonus!), cakes, pies, brownies...

                                                1. Shake chicken, fish, zucchini, squash, etc. in a bag of seasoned bread crumbs, then bake. Even more fun - smash some corn flakes, potato chips, pretzels, etc. in that bag before you shake and bake.

                                                  Homemade butter - cold heavy cream in a jar and shake it up.

                                                  Decorate cookies, cupcakes, Rice Krispie treats.

                                                  1. When I am really lazy with my 3 yr old... I take frozen puff pastry and let her cut shapes out of it with cookie cutter . I brush it with egg and then let her sprinkle or with a variety of toppings - sprinkles, Parmesan, cinnamon sugar, etc

                                                    1. Our Junior Master Gardener summer camp kids assembled their own dirt pudding cups at camp last month.
                                                      All it takes is a package of regular oreos (dirt) and one of vanilla oreos(sand) , chocolate and vanilla pudding (you could make an almond milk one ahead for the non dairy kid), gummy worms, brown sugar, mini marshmallows, nuts, raisinets - things that look like rocks and bugs.
                                                      The kids can crush the cookies in ziplock bags. They can make instant pudding in jars and shake it up themselves.

                                                      Give them clear wide cups to layer the dirt pudding. First dirt (or sand), then a worm or rocks, then pudding, more worms and rocks, then dirt or sand, finishing with more rocks and worms.

                                                      They get messy, and have fun, and if you talk about, and have them guess what's really in the soil, it can be a learning experience, too.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. Shell peas, husk corn. I recently wished for young children in my kitchen, to shell fresh peas for me. I have happy memories of opening pea pods with my sister, seated in the sun on the backstep of Grandma's house. As an adult, standing in the kitchen, the task seemed a lot slower and was nowhere near as much fun. Husking sweet corn is the opposite for me - a task I found tedious as a kid is quick and easy now.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: MidwesternerTT

                                                          My sister and i were always in charge of husking the corn! We would sit outside with a paper bag for the husks and the pot for the corn- we got those silk strings everywhere!

                                                        2. I have an 8yo who enjoys helping me in the kitchen.

                                                          If you prep (cut/dice/measure out) the ingredients, the possibilities are great.

                                                          My son loves to help me with chili. He can stir the onions, beans, etc and it is a simple enough dish that it won't get messed up by too little or too much attention.

                                                          Baking is always a hit, he especially likes brownies. Cookies can test patience as attention wanes after the first batch comes out of the oven.

                                                          We made homemade soft pretzels last summer. The end result was not tasty but he loved the process.

                                                            1. Peeling quail eggs (to be included in a salad made with the cherry tomatoes, possibly) might be fun for the younger ones. You never know.

                                                              1. I would also ask each child what they want for dinner and get them to help you make it.

                                                                Remember that even getting the ingredients out of the cupboard and opening the packets can be fun for the little ones.

                                                                I also like the idea about food with amazing transformations. Another couple of ideas for that are pita bread and miso soup with wakame (you start with tiny dried wakame pieces which expand dramatically in the soup).

                                                                1. Lots of great ideas here, thanks! T minus 7 days til the kids are here. I've added crepes to the list of your great ideas. :-)

                                                                  1. Miss Luella,
                                                                    I am looking forward to your post after your ten day adventure. Your a saint. When my sisters four grandchildren get together 3-7 yrs. all boys., They are well behaved but. Aye yai yai.

                                                                    1. Thank you all for your fantastic ideas! I'm going to have to keep them in my back pocket for other times, because their days were so packed with going that I couldn't sneak in one single cooking adventure.

                                                                      The kids had a great time (me too, actually), but their food universe remains untouched.

                                                                      1. Another vote for pizzas. You can introduce more veggies this way too - cut them into strips or dots and let them make pictures on top of the cheese.

                                                                        And I always love the making-butter-in-a-mason-jar thing too for kids.