Finding activities to keep children busy over school holidays can be a challenge. Some kids are happy to spend hours a day in front of a screen, but there’s another option that’s creative and educational, not to mention fun and, well … yummy.
This is as good a time as any to teach your children the joy of cooking. Every child should learn to make the basics so they don’t subsist on expensive fast food once they leave home. And they don’t know it, but they’re learning a frugal skill that will serve them well all life long. If you make it fun, they’ll want to learn more.
The first thing to emphasize is safety. Have them wash their hands, tie their hair back if it’s long, roll up sleeves or get any distracting clothing out of the way, and put on an apron (keeps clothes clean and makes them feel like they’re really in the role).
Teach them the importance of not having pot handles sticking out from the stove. They can be bumped or catch on clothing and dump a pan full of something scalding onto your front or feet!
Have pot holders handy — kitchen towels are a poor substitute. Warn them not to lean into a hot oven to look at something; always pull the oven rack out to you.
At some point, they’ll need to use a knife. There are some excellent videos online about teaching knife skills to kids. Watch them together and let them practice under supervision. And even toddlers can help chop fruits and other foods with a wooden knife made just for them; see these on Amazon for ideas.
What to make?
With that out of the way, what should you cook?
Start with easy stuff, perhaps cold foods, such as sandwiches and salads. Get creative! You might be surprised at how eagerly children will eat a salad when they’ve made it themselves.
Now for the hot stuff.
Start simple, with scrambled eggs, grilled cheese sandwiches, or maybe a BLT — they only have to cook the bacon and that can be done safely in the microwave, if they’re not ready for the big skillet.
Kids love hot dogs, so maybe let them begin with pigs in a blanket: Remember those childhood favorites where you wrapped croissant dough triangles around a hot dog, stuffed with a piece of cheese, and baked them in the oven? If you need a recipe, here’s one for Pillsbury crescent dogs.
Getting a bit harder, try something with ground beef or turkey. How about a pot of chili? Here’s an easy recipe:
1 pound ground beef or turkey
1 15-ounce can of diced tomatoes
1 15-ounce can chili beans or black beans with chili spices
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt to taste
Brown beef or turkey in a deep skillet till liquid evaporates. Add tomatoes, beans and spices. Stir well. Taste before adding salt – some brands of tomatoes and beans already have a lot. Simmer on low heat, covered, for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. If it gets too thick, add a little water to loosen. Serve with tortillas or crackers. Or put it on hot dogs. Serves 6.
Kids love to make desserts. They’ve probably made s’mores at some point. And there are lots of no-bake cookie recipes online. To make life easy, start with a mix. A brownie, cookie, muffin or cake mix is easy enough for almost any beginner. This teaches them to follow directions and about measurements.
Then let them get creative: add some favorite nuts or mini chips to a brownie mix, some fresh diced banana to a muffin mix, and so on. Maybe have fun with the frosting and let them add sprinkles or other colorful decorations.
The trick is to let them choose what they want to cook and make sure it’s achievable, so they gain confidence and will continue to want to do it. Invest in a few kids’ cookbooks and let them own the skill. Who knows? You might be surprised to find you have a budding chef in the family!
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