In high school, I was obsessed with making and packing my own lunch. After school, I made quesadillas, grilled cheeses or random creations from what was in the fridge; I was cutting fruit for myself or for my sister, making banana bread and more. Once I had a snack, I followed my mother’s instructions to thaw some meat or mix a marinade so she could skip a step on the way home. When she cooked dinner, I cooked the rice or roti that went with it. During the summer, I recreated salads that I loved in take-out meals and tried and failed several times at making cookies. It helped me to be – and still am – a person who absolutely loves to eat.
Not all kids will cook like I did, but there’s one sure way to find out if they want to: let them cook. If you’re interested in trying, even letting them handle a simple step here and there can be an amazing building block. If they’re younger, be prepared for some messes (and have them help you clean up, if only to keep them from becoming that housemate later on). If they’re teenagers, let them fend for themselves, of course, let them know you’re there if they have any questions. Small children may enjoy sensory tasks like mashing, crushing, mixing and rolling objects, while older children might be more interested in the chemistry of baking or experimenting with flavors. Even better, you can show them when it’s important to follow instructions exactly and when you know you can improvise.
Below are recipes with steps that can teach kids some basic cooking skills. We can be just for your child. You know your children best!
Pop Pop’s Potato Pancakes, shown above. This recipe was published in 2015 and was written by a teenager; these hash browns are a recipe from her grandfather that she tweaked with extra seasoning and sauce. Her advice: “Even slow heat will help develop a nice crust without burning, and it will ensure that the cakes are warmed through and through.” You’ll need to refrigerate the potato mixture for at least six hours or overnight before forming the patties – and again, briefly, after the patties have formed – so treat this as a lesson in patience. The kids might enjoy mashing the potatoes and shaping the patties, and it’s a great “learn to fry” recipe when you think they’re ready to handle the stovetop.
banana pancakes. If you get a weekend morning together, one, make banana pancakes. Teach toddlers to measure and stir, make fun shapes in the pan and show them how to know when it’s time to flip.
Deli Salad Sandwich: 3 Ways. If you’re ready to teach some basic knife skills, this super easy salad sandwich format calls for chopped celery and green onion, both of which are easy to handle and won’t cause tears (looking at you onions). What if you’re not? Pre-chop ingredients for them and let them measure things out and have fun mashing and mixing.
cooked falafel. There are many ways your child can learn from this recipe. Maybe they’re ready to learn how to dose spices and infuse flavors on the stovetop. Maybe they would like to learn how the food processor works. Or maybe they’ll like scooping up the falafel mixture and shaping it into patties. And if they don’t like to prepare them, they will certainly enjoy eating them.
four-quarter conversion. Food writer Allison Robicelli is homeschooling her kids and has learned that math isn’t as hard to learn (or teach) when it translates to cake. Measure the ingredients together (or let them do it themselves), then show them how to convert to grams and vice versa. Or skip the conversion lesson and practice fractions by cutting and eating the cake. Want more recipes to teach? Read his story here.
Corn, Black Bean and Red Onion Quesadillas. When I was a teenager, I think my favorite after-school snack had to be quesadillas. This is probably our easiest (and quickest) quesadilla recipe, and it’s the one you can pass along to your child. You can teach them how to thaw frozen corn in the microwave, layer a quesadilla, and if you think they’re ready for baking, show them how to fry and flip them. Or you can bake them and show them how the oven works! These onion and poblano quesadillas are great for explaining basic chopping and sautéing techniques. Want to go beyond? Make BBQ Sweet Potato Tortizzas, a fun combination of pizza and quesadillas.
Egg and tomato soup. Here’s another created by a teenage girl I adore. If your child is ready to chop, sauté and simmer, let them go! And if they don’t, they’ll still have fun learning how to whisk eggs and pour them into the hot soup.