My philosophy in life is “Everyone belongs in the kitchen!” Whether you’re trying to get a picky eater to taste new foods or are looking for a great creative outlet for your kids, allowing them to experiment in the kitchen is the best way to forge a lifetime love of cooking (and eating!) Even the smallest hands can help in some way, so pull up a step stool, and try some of our favorites today.
Spaghetti Hot Dogs
These are — by far — my kids’ absolute favorite dinner. All you need are some hot dogs and raw spaghetti. Slice each hot dog into 4 (or have the kids do the cutting if they’re old enough.) Break the spaghetti in half and poke the raw spaghetti through the cut side of the hot dog. They can use as many pieces of spaghetti as they’d like but make sure to space them a bit or they won’t cook properly. When all the hot dogs and spaghetti are used, carefully place them in a large pot of boiling salted water and allow to cook for 10 minutes. Drain and serve.
Protein packed and super cute and customizable, egg muffins are a great way to explore new flavors. Grease a muffin tin, and fill halfway with beaten eggs. On the side, prepare an array of toppings such as chopped spinach, shredded cheese, diced onion, diced peppers, diced tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, olives and seasonings like salt, pepper, garlic powder and smoked paprika. Feel free to experiment with your kids’ favorite flavors or have them try something new. When all the egg muffins are topped and seasoned, bake at 350° until set. The kids can prepare toppings, crack eggs, and/or assemble muffins. These make a great make-ahead breakfast they’ll be proud to gobble up.
Who doesn’t love tacos? Children can assemble their own tacos and help prepare all the toppings. We like to break up our ground meat with a potato masher as it browns and my kids are very eager to help mash and season. My four-year-old daughter loves to help me mash avocados with a fork and is an expert salsa fresca taster. Salsa fresca is nothing more than diced tomatoes, diced onions, minced jalapeño, and cilantro tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper, and fresh lime.
Tasting is an integral part of the process, and if your kids like the components apart, they are more willing to try them together. You can have soft tacos on hand along with hard taco shells and serve with lettuce, red cabbage, guacamole, diced tomatoes, and salsa fresca.
Veggies can be a lot of fun when they’re used to decorate faces on top of sauce and cheese. You can use pizza dough rounds or mini pitas for the base. Allow the kids to top with sauce and cheese, and let their imaginations run wild as they transform vegetables into facial features. Red peppers make great lips, olives make wonderful eyes, and corn kernels make perfectly silly teeth.
You can go the classic route with seasoned breadcrumbs or mix it up with a variety of breading options. Cut chicken cutlets into nugget-sized pieces and prepare a breading station. Be sure to put on disposable gloves for quick and easy cleanup! We like to bake our nuggets because they’re healthier and less messy, so we typically coat the chicken pieces lightly in mayo or Dijon mustard and then into the breading. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, spray with cooking spray and bake uncovered on 450° for 12 to 15 minutes. Crushed pretzels, crisp rice cereal, ground almonds, crushed enchilada chips, and coconut flakes make wonderful chicken nuggets too!
Smoothies are a new obsession in our home and rightfully so. They’re refreshing, healthy, and easy! We use frozen fruits — so there’s no need to water down the flavor with ice — and blend them with whole milk until they’re smooth and thick. I have a variety of frozen fruits available, and each child chooses his or her favorite combination or tries something new. They can help prep the fruits for the freezer as well. Peel/clean the fruit, then slice and freeze in a single layer. Once frozen, use them in a smoothie or store in a zip top freezer bag until you’re ready to use them. Bananas, blueberries, strawberries, peaches, plums, and cherries work wonderfully. Feel free to add some chia seeds and/or a drizzle of honey.
Stuffed French Toast
This sounds fancy, but trust me, it’s doesn’t require nearly the effort you might think, and it’s a great option for your kids to make for YOU on special days that call for some pampering. Essentially, it’s just a challah sandwich dipped into beaten egg and lightly browned on both sides, but the fillings make it extra special. Some of our favorites are Nutella and strawberries, peanut butter and jelly, peanut butter and Nutella, and marshmallow fluff with chocolate. Dust with confectioners sugar for an extra special presentation.
Tea Biscuit Cake
This one’s easy enough for the youngest children and delicious enough to serve as dessert on Shabbos. Prepare the cream by beating 16 oz. whipped topping together with a package of instant pudding mix until stiff.
To assemble, briefly dunk tea biscuits, one at a time, into milk or almond milk, and immediately place in the serving dish. Repeat until a full layer is complete. Top with a layer of cream. Repeat with another layer of dunked tea biscuits followed by another layer of cream. Repeat for as many layers as desired ending with cream on top. Shave some chocolate over the top layer, and refrigerate until ready to serve. This works well with any flavor biscuits and cream. Your child will be so proud when s/he sees this dessert approach the table and will surely welcome all the compliments!
These ideas are sure to excite your kids no matter what their ages. Before you know it, they’ll be coming up with recipes of their own!