Children love to get involved in food prep and cooking, and there are plenty of meals kids can make themselves. They can help with pretty much anything, but there are certain activities they particularly enjoy, and others that encourage learning. Whatever the new skill, they will feel empowered by the independence of making their own food, so go on… let them have a go!
Elsie loves to construct food. She can chop and sort items, but the best bit by far is bringing it all together to make something pretty. Give them separate bowls with everything they need and let them get creative!
Flatbread makes a great easy pizza base. I buy the wholemeal flatbread too, and no-one ever complains. You can buy or make fancy pizza sauce, but if your tomatoes are high quality you really don’t need to do anything with them. I only ever buy the imported italian tinned tomatoes, I’m not just being a tomato snob, the best Italian tomatoes don’t have the acidity cheaper tomatoes have, and are good enough to stick straight on a pizza without other ingredients. Elsie’s a cheese pizza kind of girl but if there’s other ingredients available to pretty up her pizza she just might be tempted. Once constructed, place in the oven at 400°F for around 5-10 minutes.
We often eat tacos together… in Elsie’s words “It’s make your own taco night?!” Put the meat into the slow cooker before school (kiddos can help or just do the fun bit later). It’ll be perfect for dinner time and your littles can enjoy constructing their tacos with all the trimmings. Elsie likes her tacos with pickled red onion (leave sliced red onion in lime juice for the 2-6hrs in the fridge), chopped cilantro (thats coriander if you’re British) and chopped baby tomatoes. Also, consider guacamole and crumbled cotija… yum. Find a recipe and method for carnitas here at Recipe Tin Eats.
It’s warming up quick here in Arizona, which means one thing… grilling season is here! You can pretty much skewer anything and grill it, so let the kids pick their favorite ingredients and arm them with a long pokey stick. They can pick whatever they like, but if you’re looking for some inspiration, Food Network have 50 kebab ideas here.
Meals for Motor Skills
We often take for granted how easy it is to carry out certain activities in the kitchen. I remember my first batch of fairy cakes with little Elsie… there was more cake mix on the worktop and tray than in the actual cake cases. Scooping sticky cake mix is tough!
PB & J
It sounds like small beans, but Elsie was super excited the first time she made her own peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It’s quite difficult to spread things onto bread using a knife, and even gauging the amount to scoop out is a challenge for those that have never done it before. Cutting the sandwich in half is surprisingly difficult too, so there is loads to learn from this easy peasy meal!
Despite living in Arizona, I grew up in Cornwall, England. I was more than surprised when I moved to the desert, that the local folk are really into pasties! The Cornish are very particular about their pasties, so I’m sticking with a traditional recipe from The Cornish Pasty Association. These are perfect for kids because they also fill the ‘kit-of-parts’ category above, but working with pastry required considerable motor skills. They are perfect lunch box food so get stuck in straight away!
Cottage, Shepard’s, Fish… any kind of pie with a mash potato topping. Smashing potatoes with a masher is lots of fun, and spreading the potatoes is quite the challenge, similar to the PB&J. If you have small pie pots I recommend using them, that way your kiddo can scoop the pie mix into the pot, top with potato and claim their own personal pie! They can of course be involved in the pie mix too, if you’re looking for a recipe try Gordon Ramsey’s at Epicurious.
Kids will learn from any cooking, but some activities open up the perfect opportunities for a little lesson in the kitchen…
Food Hygiene: Chicken Nuggets
I am always extra careful will raw poultry, and I believe it’s good for kids to have an understanding of food hygiene early on. I’m not suggesting you hand raw chicken to a toddler, but once they’re old enough to listen and follow directions, let them make their own nuggets! I buy chicken mini fillets and cut into two or three nuggets for each fillet. Set up three bowls with flour, lightly beaten egg, and breadcrumbs (I like Panko). Add a little salt in with the flour. Elsie loves dipping the nuggets, first in the flour, then the egg and lastly the crumbs. You can then bake in the oven or shallow fry – the Panko will go a pretty golden color if you fry.
Chemical Reactions: Pancakes
It’s fun to watch things cook and change, and what kid doesn’t love pancakes! Take the opportunity to have a science lesson in your kitchen, this PBS Parents video shows you how…
Growing Food: Salad
Elsie and I try and grow food every year. So far we have had little success, despite our efforts, but who knows… maybe this year! There is something magic about planting a seed, watching it grow, picking it and eating it, and it throws up questions about food sources, health and the environment. I love the ideas for fun kid salads at Super Healthy Kids, my favorite is the salad skewers… see kebabs above!
Encouraging Decision Making
Many meals can be made in a number of different ways. I find Elsie is less fussy about food she has chosen herself, rather than something new and green being placed in front of her. One of the advantages of meals kids can make themselves, is they feel more invested in eating it! Let those kiddos browse the veg in the grocery store, and pick something new to chuck in with their homemade meal…
Quesadilla’s are fun and easy to make, and because they are parceled up with cheese they are easy to use to lightly introduce new flavors. You can’t go wrong with a classic chicken and cheese quesadilla, but get them to decide on one or two bonus ingredients! If you want some slightly wacky ideas for quesadilla’s check out this slideshow at Delish.
You can stick anything in an omelette. Let them pick something fun, and create a new flavor sensation. In case you want to know how to create the perfect omelette, Bon Appetite have got you covered. And I love Jamie Oliver’s omelette monsters… so much fun!
Elsie does a weekly cooking club after school. Last week they made greek pasta salad which she was weirdly excited about. Pasta dishes can incorporate whatever your kid enjoys to eat, so let them decide! Tomato base? Creamy? Choose your veg, maybe some meat? Herbs? Cheese? There are so many alternatives, let them come up with the perfect dish and they’re much more likely to be excited to sit down and clear the plate.
Call me lazy, call me savvy, but I believe the more they do, the less you have to do! Granted the mess may be worse, but put your feet up and let them get their own snacks:
- Cheese & Crackers – Portion sized cheese helps (Babybel or cheese sticks)
- Berries & Yogurt
- Toast – Teach them how to do this safely
- Hummus & Pita
- Keep the fruit bowl where they can get to it!
I hope you enjoyed these meals kids can make themselves… do let me know if you have any favorites to add to the list!