Cooking with kids is a great activity to do any time of year, in any size home and kitchen. It can be tailored to children of different ages and can span a whole week or a single weekend afternoon. Here are some ideas on how to make cooking with kids a delicious success.
Herb Guessing Game
A guessing game to test young chefs' culinary knowledge. If you are
doing an entire day - or days - of cooking, this is a fun way to start. Lay
out different types of fresh herbs alongside a stack of labels and see
how many they can correctly identify. If you grow your own herbs in a
garden or window box, have the kids cut and collect them themselves.
Using a knife can be dangerous and a lesson on knife skills should be
reserved for older children. There are many chef knives you can buy
with duller blades designed specifically for children (this Cook’s
Illustrated article reviews different options), or you may want to skip
straight to a regular knife and just teach them how to properly use it.
For my 6 and 9-year-old, we went the latter route but you know your
Once you’ve settled on a knife, review how to safely hold it. Our three
-Keep your right hand on the handle
-Keep your left hand on the top of the knife and away from the blade
-Keep the tip of the knife touching the cutting board
Demonstrate and have them practice on a variety of foods requiring different knife skills. Some suggestions –
-Make a chiffonade of basil or mint
-Slide rosemary off the stalk and chop
-Peel, score and dice an onion (tip – wear goggles!)
-Wash and chop lettuce for a salad
-Smash, peel and chop garlic
Reinforce knife skills during other cooking activities.
Make Your Own Vinaigrette
Take a basic vinaigrette recipe and let your chefs add their own twist.
Each child gets a mason jar with lid, a cutting board and knife. Their
challenge is to create a vinaigrette using the following formula:
1 part acid
3 parts oil
Additional flavor elements
Lay out an assortment of ingredients for them to choose from. Here
aresome ideas –
Acid - Different kinds of Vinegar, Limes and Lemons
Oil – Olive oil, Canola Oil
Emulsifier – Dijon mustard, Mayonnaise
Additional Flavor elements – Garlic, Onion, Herbs, Salt, Pepper
Encourage your chefs to use their newfound knowledge of herbs and knife skills when making their vinaigrette. Once they have selected their ingredients and chopped as needed, everything goes in the mason jar and gets a good shake.
Recipes and Menus
Decide on a handful of dishes and print out the recipes in advance. Below is a selection of dishes my children have enjoyed making, but cook whatever you like. Combine recipes that pair well to make a full meal.
Everyone should know how to make rice. We again used those knife skills and chopped and sauteed some garlic and onion in butter before adding the rice and water. The kids selected and chopped their own herbs to add in at the end.
Salad with Homemade Vinaigrette
We planted a garden for the first time this summer and tried to utilize it as much as possible during cooking activities, including morning trips to gather ingredients. We made several salads, with the kids’ own vinaigrette creations, of course. Add whichever greens and veggies you like. Link below for a basic, all purpose vinaigrette.
Breaded Chicken Cutlet
Breading is a great staple technique to know, and a fun one too. It involves coating a piece of meat in flour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs before frying in a cast iron pan. Young chefs will also enjoy pounding the chicken breasts thin with a meat mallet or metal spoon before breading.
Another recipe inspired by the bounty of the garden and a great use of abundant basil. Freeze leftovers in small portions (an ice cube tray works well) to enjoy in the winter.
Dulche De Leche Lava Cakes
My son saw a similar recipe in the MasterChef Junior Bakes Cookbook and asked to make it. Browsing through cookbooks and selecting recipes is another great element to incorporate into cooking activities.
For our cooking activities, I wanted to include a recipe that involves rolling out dough. We used a bread maker for this recipe but you can also make the dough in an electric stand mixer with a dough hook.
Prepping and chopping kale requires a different technique from other kinds of greens. Kids will have fun sliding the green leaves off the woody stem. We left the croutons in this recipe out but include them if you like.
Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Frosting
Knowing that my two kids would each want to make their own cake - and also that we did not want two full sized cakes on our hands - we used adorable 6” round cake pans. The recipe calls for chocolate frosting but we used a separate recipe for vanilla frosting instead. Since we were making two cakes and also wanted leftover frosting for decorating, we tripled the frosting recipe. We colored the vanilla frosting by mixing in Wilton gel colors and used piping bags and an assortment of cake decorating tips.
Peeling potatoes is another basic skill that is good to know. We peeled and quartered Yukon gold potatoes, boiled them until tender and drained them in a colander, then mashed them with butter, milk, salt, pepper. Link to a good standard recipe below, though we added a little garlic salt and some extra butter - always!
Cast Iron Steaks
My daughter specifically requested how to cook and butter baste a steak in a cast iron pan. So we did! We had seen Gordon Ramsey do this on television before, so we watched his Ultimate Cookery Course linked below for a refresher.
We got the rolling pin out again to make this soft and delicious classic flat bread from India. We paired the naan with the kebabs below for a tasty lunch.
Chicken and Onion Kebabs
To make these simple kebabs, we soaked wooden skewers in water for 15 minutes so they wouldn’t burn when placed on the grill. We cut boneless chicken breasts and onions into 1” pieces and threaded them alternately onto the skewers. We basted the kebabs with a mixture of olive oil, salt, lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic and fresh oregano and grilled them on high heat for roughly 15 minutes. Link to a similar recipe - just without the onions - below.
This was another child request and a recipe new to all of us. The process was more successful than the finished product (nailed it!) but we had a lot of fun. We found a video tutorial more helpful than a written recipe and watched a clear and straightforward one by Desserts by Areesa, linked below. We ordered the candy melts and sticks online. We did not have a piece of styrofoam so improvised and used an egg carton flipped upside down for a drying rack. If we make these again, we will make sure to thin out the candy melts using more canola oil.