After years of teaching kids to cook for themselves and their families, I’ve learned that there are those who are happy with omelets, and chicken breasts, and mashed potatoes, but there are others who, once mastering the basics, quickly become bored with “regular food”, and need to branch out into new culinary adventures to keep their interest.
I’ve gone through the following steps with children as young as five (including my daughter) and, with a little flexibility and patience, it can be a fun exercise in life-skills and making memories.
Chef’s Note: when it stops being fun, stop!
You’re not teaching at the Le Cordon Bleu, so tell your inner Iron Chef to lighten up! Forcing a kid to cook will only get you the opposite of what you’re shooting for…a lifetime peanut-butter and ramen eater. Give them a little time to forget those burned brownies or soggy rice, and their natural curiosity will bring them back to the kitchen.
Also, don’t let your own bias become theirs! If they pick a recipe that calls for an ingredient that doesn’t appeal to you…suck it up! The whole idea here is to broaden their horizons (and it might not hurt to stretch ours a wee bit, as well!) 😉
So, place your tongue firmly in your cheek, accept that the kitchen is going to be a mess*, and have some fun!
Here we go…
- Decide on a protein (chicken, steak, ground beef, salmon, pork roast, etc.) Okay, it doesn’t have to be meat, but I’ve found that those recipes are easier to find in the following steps. You can certainly begin with a vegetarian/vegan main ingredient, as well.
- Let kiddo pick a country. I have a huge map of the world* on our dining room wall, but a globe, atlas, or even an online map would work just as well.
- Google: “(name of country) (protein) Recipes” EX: “Brazilian Chicken Recipes” (9,840,000 results.) If you have other ingredients you want to use, like rice, or tomatoes…add them in the search, as well.
- Together, cull through the search results, until you find one that sounds good.
- I recommend searching under the “images” tab, and find a dish that kiddo likes the look of, before continuing to find a recipe.
- Search for the name of the recipe you’ve chosen, say... Jollof Rice. Pickle and I like to find out a little about the history of our recipe in its native country, how it’s prepared there, and any other interesting facts about the ingredients or techniques.
Help junior jot down some notes. Here’s what I found on our example (Jollof Rice):
Jollof rice, also called ‘Benachin’ meaning one pot in the Wolof language, is a popular dish all over West Africa. The dish consists of rice, tomatoes and tomato paste, onion, salt, and spices to which optional ingredients can be added such as vegetables, meats, and fish. (Wikipedia)
6. Together, collect the ingredients, discarding or replacing those that are too spicy, too expensive, or too obscure, and (together) prepare the dish. Try to keep the dish as authentic as possible, but it still needs to be something your child can eat.
7. When the rest of the family or friends arrive let kiddo give a short presentation of what we’re having for dinner, and then help them serve the dish to the dinner guests.
8. Remember the three most important ingredients in kid cooking…praise, praise, & praise!
Most of all HAVE FUN!
Note: I have a daughter, but if I had a son, I would do the same. Let’s put it this way…when I was 25, my sole redeeming feature was my ability to cook really good food…and I married way out of my league.
If nothing else, parents, think of it as your son’s “Failure to Launch” insurance, down the road!
*Just a note on that “mess” in the kitchen…Junior isn’t an Iron Chef either, and you’re not his/her “prep-monkey”…clean-up is part of cooking…they might as well get that idea now instead of later. Again, do it together, and make it as fun as possible.
**We place a pin in each country we “visit” and keep a journal of each recipe and our notes. This probably isn’t necessary, but it’s a lot of fun. Pickle and I have a goal to cook from every country in the world…we’re up to 26! 😉
Now, let’s get to the good stuff…THE RECIPES!
I’ve chosen these two dishes, not only because they're delicious and simple to make, but also because each allows for nearly limitless adaptation to tastes. Both omelets and pasta can stand alone or serve as a base for any number of meat and veggie additions and variations.
In our first recipe, the basic omelet, we’ll take a crack at (sorry) one of the most ubiquitous of all ingredients, the amazing egg, and learn some tricks for getting the best out of beautiful little protein bombs.
As for our second recipe, Chicken Picatta, we’ll delve into the food of my people and learn the REAL techniques for making perfect pasta!
But first, a quick refresher…
5. NO PRESSURE
Junior’s first few forays in the kitchen should have a very flexible timeline. This is not the time to invite the whole family over for dinner. Plan 50% more time than the recipes calls for, and…
4. HAVE A PLAN B
Project all confidence and enthusiasm in your kiddo’s ability, but keep the phone number for your favorite pizza delivery close and hand!
3. BE PREPARED
“Mise in Plas” (having all of the ingredients prepared and measured before we start cooking exponentially increase our kid’s chance of success.) Read the recipe twice, do your mise en place, then read the recipe again to make sure everything is ready.
Remember: Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance!
2. PRAISE, PRAISE, PRAISE!
Praise is the quad-shot of espresso to a child’s confidence. Praise everything. Praise the successes, the almost successes, and especially the occasional (and unavoidable) “learning experiences!
1. HAVE FUN!
Lock your inner “Chef Ramsey” in the bathroom, and keep things enjoyable. Nobody likes a drill sergeant (believe me, I’ve worked for enough of them!) If it’s not fun, well…it’s just another hour of school, isn’t it?
So, suspend expectations, laugh, joke, play (safely please), dance if the spirit takes you.
Make it something that your little chef enjoys, and they’ll soon be begging to cook dinner for YOU! (You really didn’t think this was all motivated by pure altruism, did you?) 😉
Chef’s note: For tons more kid-friendly recipes and tips, check out my non-profit’s website, www.joinmykitchen.com
Omelets are one of my favorite meals and were among my first adventures in cooking. Dad would cook them on Saturday mornings while we watched cartoons together. When I was older he taught me how to prepare the classic filled omelet, as I'm now doing with The Pickle.
We like to add things like sauteed onions, peppers, roasted mushrooms, as well as experimenting with a variety of cheeses and spices.
Basic Filled Omelet
Active Time: 5min.
Total Time: 15min.
· 2 eggs
· 1 tbsp. milk or cream
· 1 tsp. butter
· 1-2oz. Your favorite cheese, shredded
· 1-2oz. Toppings (shown: grilled onions, sauteed mushrooms, sliced avocado, cilantro).
· Salt & black pepper
Mise en Place
Grate the cheese. Dice the ham. Crack eggs into a small mixing bowl.
Melt butter in a pre-heated sauté pan over medium heat. Using a fork, beat the eggs together with the milk/cream (milk help the eggs get fluffy) and a pinch each of salt and pepper.
As the eggs cook, gently move the curds around with a spatula, allowing the uncooked egg to run into the gaps, The promotes quicker and more even cooking. When most of the egg liquid has become solid, allow your omelet to cook an additional 10 minutes without touching.
Add the ham and the cheese (save a little pinch or two of cheese for topping) once when the bottom is firm but still runny on the top.
When the eggs are cooked through use a spatula to gently fold omelet in half and then slide onto a warm plate. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese.
I like my omelet with a side of fruit and a slice of rye toast.