There’s no way to sugarcoat it: Cooking with kids will probably wreck your kitchen. But make like Elsa and just let it go. Getting children involved in culinary pursuits helps them learn math, become more adventurous eaters, and most of all, gives you something rewarding to do together as a family that doesn’t involve a screen, which is even more important now that everyone’s stuck at home. A great kids’ cookbook, and some strategically deployed kids’ cooking sets and kitchen tools, make the experience all the more fun and accessible to kids, while helping to minimize the mess.
Molly Birnbaum, a mom of two and the editor-in-chief of America’s Test Kitchen Kids, urges type-A parents to relax their standards and accept that “things are going to get really messy. That’s just how it is.” The benefits of cooking together far outweigh the inconvenience.
“Food is a wonderful lens into learning about so many subjects. Kids learn where food comes from and how to use kitchen tools to cook it. In terms of creativity, they learn how to plate and decorate foods. To learn math, they measure out ingredients. It’s fun, and kids don’t feel like they’re in school. And when you’re done, you have something delicious to eat and share,” she says. Cooking is also just “a really fun thing to do with other people.”
If you’re wondering what to cook, many chefs recommend starting with dessert, because if you want to get kids exited about cooking, serve them a cupcake or a brownie they helped make. In terms of gear, you don’t need a ton to get started, but a few basics will help keep things under control, and kids engaged. Here’s what Birnbaum recommends to make the most of your inter-generational cooking endeavors.
The Best Kids’ Cookbooks
This is the ultimate baking book for the master baker in the making, from America's Test Kitchen. Cupcakes, empanadas, pretzels... these recipes have been tested and tasted by more than 5,000 kids, and feature detailed photos of every step, giving young chefs lots of independence in the kitchen.
From Molly Katzen, the chef who gave the world its (arguably) best-beloved vegetarian cookbook, 'The Moosewood Cookbook,' in 1977, 'Pretend Soup' gives the same to the newest generation of little cooks. Intended to empower kids in the kitchen with delightful culinary experiments, from Tiny Tacos to serious focaccia.
Written by Amanda Grant and illustrated by Harriet Russell, this cookbook takes the authentic regional Italian dishes from the classic adult edition and makes them approachable for kids, without making them seem any less sophisticated. Reissued last year to celebrate its 10th anniversary in home kitchens everywhere.
The sequel to Molly Katzen's 'Pretend Soup' and another sure winner for short-stack cooks. As with all the best kids’ cookbooks, the goal of these recipes is to encourage kids to experiment, have fun in the kitchen, appreciate healthy food, and cook with a confidence and curiosity that will carry them through life.
The Best Kids’ Kitchen Utensils
In order to use all his or her new kitchen tools, your little sous-chef will ideally be at counter-level. Elevate your culinary sidekick with this birch-wood toddler tower. Easy for kids to climb and for parents to clean, the tower gets little kids safely up to counter-level so they can watch, help, and learn.
Warning: This knife is sharp, so kids need to be supervised while they're using it. But it's also the best learning set you can get, because it comes with a finger guard that holds food securely while they cut it and also protects their knuckles. The set includes a 4-inch knife and a peeler with a finger ring.
What's better than beating batter into submission? Nothing, that's what. So let your kid get in on the action with this basic, classic whisk.
Adult-size rolling pins are too heavy and unwieldy for kids to manage, so let them roll out dough with this one. The surface is non-stick silicone, and it's 9.5 inches long.
You want tough, colorful measuring cups and spoons, with easy-to-read numbers, so kids can use them (and drop them) while also learning a little math.
These mixing bowls have non-skid bottoms, so they won't fall off the counter (much). The set includes 1.5-quart, 3-quart and 5-quart bowls, all of them dishwasher-safe.
A head chef of any stature needs an apron emblazoned with his or her name. These tough little aprons are made from a poly/cotton twill that will weather the culinary experiments to come — and then can be tossed in the washing machine.
For young chefs with intergalactic culinary ambitions (or just a love of astronomy), a bright and bold 100 percent cotton set that includes an apron, oven mitt, and chef's hat. Sized for kids 4 to 9.
The Best Kids’ Cooking Sets
Every chef needs the right tools. This set includes a child-size apron, oven mitts, a 3-quart mixing bowl, kitchen timer, 6-piece measuring cup and 6-piece measuring spoon sets, a large mixing spoon, a non-stick rolling pin, a whisk, a silicone spatula, a pastry brush, a nylon cookie turner, and a bear, flower, and butterfly cookie cutter. Because every baker must have a flower cookie cutter.
A smaller, 11-piece set from Curious Chef that covers all the bases for an afternoon of baking. This set comes with an adjustable all-cotton apron, and the kitchen tools to match: spatula, whisk, mixing spoon, measuring spoons, and bear-shaped cookie cutter.
Speaking of baking, you can't go wrong with this very fancy kit. It includes mermaid and shell cookie cutters, a silicone cupcake mold, a spatula, a frosting bag, a sticker sheet, and recipes for cookies, cupcakes, and frosting.
The Best Kids’ Cooking Subscriptions
Sometimes it's best to let the experts to do the planning for you, so join this wonderful cooking club for kids, which teaches them to make things like carrot cake cookies. Every month you get three recipe guides, a kids cooking tool, apron patch collectibles, and a fun kitchen project you can do together.
Another monthly option, Foodstirs was co-founded by Sarah Michelle Gellar and mostly focuses on low-sugar, low-junk sweets, like sparkly apple bites. A typical kit includes an organic mix, chemical-free decorations, plus the necessary cooking supplies and kid-friendly instructions you need.
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