We all have these Instagram-worthy images in our heads of cooking with kids: cute little fingers carefully reaching to grab something with ease and perfection, working in some sort of math lesson about volume measurement, fractions and numbers all at the same time, and of course their direction following is so spot on that an Army drill sergeant would be proud. In reality, cooking with kids looks pretty much nothing like this. This is absolutely true for my home, and I run an Instagram-worthy cooking feed account that landed me on the Food Network.
So, step one of cooking with kids: lower your expectations. Once you have come to terms with that you can accomplish the teachable moment and have a wonderful time with your kids. Just be prepared to say “wash your hands” and “stop licking that” with greater frequency than anticipated.
Here are some simple tips for making cooking with kids a much more peaceful experience:
Mise en place — a popular French term used in restaurants which basically means “put in place” or “everything in its place,” Cooking with kids can be a bit disjointed, so having everything ready to go at the start of the cook can be really helpful. That way, you’re not rummaging through your pantry to flour while your kiddos have an egg smashing contest in the kitchen.
Math or science — It is actually incredibly simple to incorporate educational aspects into cooking by asking random questions. I am also a teacher by trade, and literally anything can be turned into an educational question, you just have to ask.
“Looking at this measuring cup, I can see that this half a cup is halfway to the 1 cup marker. How much more do you think you’ll need to get to 1 full cup?”
“How many more cups of flour are there than sugar? What is the difference?”
“Baking soda and baking powder help the bread rise. What kind of scientific reaction is that?”
“What are our ‘wet’ ingredients? What are the ‘dry’ ones?”
Taking turns — My kids are 5 and 7. Maybe yours are older, maybe younger. Maybe you have one child or five. But mine seem to need a sense of equity in participation. Plan their jobs ahead of time, and make expectations/roles clear … and even then there will still be petty squabbling. I am not a miracle worker here.
Mix “healthy” ingredients with fun ones — Here I had added chocolate to zucchini bread. This is a pretty transparent example of this. When we make pizzas, I will add in one vegetable that they haven’t tried before. Also, giving them choices and making them part of the process means they are more likely to try new things.
Consider a subscription service — There are kids cooking subscription services out there (Radish comes to mind) that already are centered around cooking and learning. They feature simple ingredients that are kid friendly and incorporate loads of learning.
So be easy on yourself and focus on the fact that this is more about learning new skills and spending time together than a relaxing peaceful cooking experience. We are all a little cooped up right now and our well-intentioned Pinterest at home learning moments are losing their momentum. So just take a step back and learn how to enjoy cooking with your kids without it looking exactly how you envisioned.
Chocolate Chunk Zucchini Bread
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
1 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
¼ cup butter
1 can crushed pineapple
1 large grated zucchini (roughly 2 cups after grating, not firmly pressed)
4 oz chocolate (I used a chopped up a baking bar, but you could use chocolate chips)
- In a large mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon) lightly stir together with a fork.
- Add your “wet” ingredients (eggs, vanilla, melted butter, crushed pineapple) and blend until the ingredients are well incorporated.
- Mix in the grated and pressed zucchini and the chocolate and mix again.
- Bake for 30-50 minutes at 350 degrees. When I cooked this recipe, it was pretty much doubled. I cook everything to taste, so sometimes I keep adding and adding. In the end I had a ton of batter, so I halved it for you. I cooked half in a large cast iron skillet (30 minutes at 350 degrees) and I cooked the other half in a typical bread loaf dish (50 minutes at 350 degrees).