Cooking with kids -- What not to do


January in Mississippi is wet and cold, and many days can pass without seeing the sun or enjoying the outdoors. When my children were much younger, we often decided that it would be fun for us to cook together on these long “inside” days. I dreamed that this would be a fun, educational, and an enriching family time - - Wrong. I made so many mistakes the first several times I tried to cook with the kids. It was not fun, we really did not cook anything, and I think we may have all ended up crying at the end.

What had happened to my fun plan? What were the fatal flaws? Upon some reflection and years of practice with my family, I have identified some things I have learned when cooking with kids. Try to remember these happy cooking tips:

1) Always have a “Plan B” for dinner because you might not want to eat the food you have cooked with the kids.

When the kids and I first cooked together, I actually expected us to eat the food we made. I also thought it would taste good. No way. Children have their own ideas about what spices and ingredients need to be included regardless of the recipe. I am certain I gave my children a lot of freedom in their recipe development. Both were certain that chocolate chips and brown sugar should be added to almost every recipe. You might want to stick with a very specific recipe unless you want to make and eat “Candy Soup.”

2) Allow twice (or more) as much time to make a recipe.

Often, I did not allow enough time for our cooking fun and we would get impatient and hungry near the end. Kids love to measure things and take their time for every step. My kids insisted on measuring every ingredient like it was a chemistry class. I was used to throwing in a little of this and a dash of that into everything and have my cooking complete in a reasonable amount of time. My kids could not understand and wanted to be very accurate. A friend even gave us a set of measuring spoons that said “dash” and “pinch.” Sounds funny but the joy wore down a bit as they used the novelty measuring spoons all of the time.

3) Most importantly: Never, and I mean never, cook with your children when your house is clean or when you are expecting company.

Needless to say, after cooking with your children; your kitchen, the floors, cabinets, even bathrooms, will all be dirty. Kids will always make a big mess, so plan to clean up after they are finished. Once, we made homemade marshmallows and I found sticky marshmallow paste on every doorknob in my house for at least two weeks.

My children are older now, and both children have learned to do some cooking of their own. They have learned how to prepare a meal or two, and many rainy days are still spent experimenting with new recipes. We love to cook together but one thing will never change: the mess. I hope you and your family might try one of these recipes.


Happy’s Homemade Egg Noodles

One of the reason we liked this recipe is because I got to pull out the pasta machine. It was a wedding gift -- one that is not used often enough; however, it is really fun for the kids. While this recipe may appear simple, the fun (and challenge) comes with the rolling of the noodles. Kids love it but plan to clean the floor after dinner

Mix 3 egg yolks, 1 whole egg; then add 3 tablespoons (or more as needed) cold water, and 1 teaspoon salt. Mix all ingredients and then add in 1½ to 2 cups of all-purpose flour. Knead dough by hand until a smooth ball is formed. Using a lot of flour, allow your children to run small amounts of dough through a pasta machine. Dust with additional flour as needed.

Once the noodles have been cut, add them to a pot of simmering rich chicken stock.

Soft Pretzels

Bread has always been a favorite for my kids. The tip here is to disregard the shape of the pretzel. No matter how many times we tried to twist the perfect pretzel, ours really never looked great.

1 cup milk

1 package (or 2 1/4 t.) dry active yeast

3 T. light brown sugar

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 T. butter, softened

1 t. salt

Warm the milk in a small saucepan to about 110 degrees. Add yeast and allow it to “bloom.” Mix milk/yeast mixture, butter, brown sugar, and one cup of the flour to make sticky dough. Knead in remaining 1 1/4 cup flour in a mixer or by hand on your counter top. The kids will love kneading. Mix for about five minutes. Shape dough into a ball and put in a greased bowl to rise for about an hour.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Punch dough down and turn out onto a floured surface. Cut dough into sections about the size of a tennis ball and allow the kids to shape the pretzels. Arrange “shapes” on a cookie sheet and sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake about 10 minutes until golden brown.


Homemade Playdough

I have to admit that I never made homemade playdough with my kids when they were little. They both seem fine and there are no “visible” and long-lasting scars from using the store bought dough, however, recently I decided to make some homemade playdough for a church project and I was hooked. It is so much fun to make and seems to be a little bit easier for little hands to knead. It does not last as long, so plan to throw it out after about a month. The ingredients are cheap and easy to find, so try a new color and scent each month. So fun.

Mix: 1 cup of flour, 2 teaspoons cream of tartar, and 1/3 cup salt in a heavy duty stock pot. Add 1 cup of water and 1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil. Mix on low heat until it begins to thicken. As soon as the dough starts to come together, remove from the heat. Add food color and any essential oil for scent. Knead dough off the heat. Store in an air tight container.

Orange Frosty

Years ago, I used to go to one of those original smoothie places at the old Metrocenter Mall called Orange Julius. I loved their orange milkshake and this recipe reminds me of it. Plus, kids love a blender. The loud noise and dropping in each ice cube makes for a fun treat.

1 (6 oz.) can frozen orange juice concentrate

1 cup whole or skim milk

1 cup water

1/3 cup sugar or sugar substitute (optional depending on your sweet-tooth)

1 t. vanilla extract

6 to 12 ice cubes

Combine all ingredients in a blender except ice and blend on medium for about 30 seconds. Add the ice cubes one at a time, processing constantly, until the mixture is slushy. Pour into glasses and serve immediately.

Garlic Cheesy Bread

My children found this recipe years ago and we used to make it all the time. It may not be the healthiest snack or dinner but it was one that children always enjoy.

To make the bread dough:

1 T. yeast

1 1/2 cup warm water

1 1/2 tablespoon sugar

1 t. salt

4 to 5 1/2 cups of bread flour

3 T. vegetable oil

One egg yolk

Mix yeast, water and sugar in a large mixing bowl and allow to stand for 10 minutes or until bubbly. Add salt, vegetable oil, and egg yolk. Turn mixer on low. Slowly add three cups of flour and mix well until combined. Add enough remaining flour to make a soft dough that barely sticks to your fingers. Run the mixer for about one to two minutes. Cover dough and allow to rise in a warm place for one hour.

While it’s rising, make the garlic butter by combining one stick of butter, softened, and 1 1/2 tablespoon garlic salt or garlic bread seasoning.

After dough has had a chance to rise, sprinkle a little flour on your work service and roll the dough into a rectangle that is about 18 to 20 inches long and about six inches wide. Smear the entire service with garlic butter and sprinkle with one to two cups of mozzarella cheese (Feel free to add pepperoni at this point and serve baked bread bites with a side of marinara dipping sauce.)

Roll up dough jelly roll style beginning with the long side. Then cut the roll into 12 equal slices. Place each slice and a well-greased muffin tin and cover loosely with a dish towel. Allow rolls to rise for about 30 minutes. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Bake for about 18 to 20 minutes. Watch closely so that cheese does not burn.

Remove from the oven and serve immediately.

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