At the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota, we have three kitchens: the mud kitchen, the Cabin kitchen, and the play kitchen in the farm-to-table Grow It Gallery. These exhibits are always popular, because children love this kind of pretend play. Play kitchens are a particularly popular resource for pretend play, as it benefits children and gives them the opportunity to imitate situations that they are familiar with.
This summer, we’re encouraging you to take the play kitchen to the next level and engage in some real cooking with your children. Cooking with children not only helps them develop essential life skills but also fosters creativity, encourages healthy eating habits, and strengthens family bonds. So let’s explore some delicious summer recipes, age-appropriate tasks for children, and the valuable skills and development that each activity promotes.
Cooking with children can be a fun and educational activity, but it’s important to prioritize safety and plan ahead. Here are some tips to ensure a safe and enjoyable cooking experience:
- Choose age-appropriate recipes: Select recipes that are suitable for your child’s age and skill level. Below, we’ve provided a menu for you to get started! Simple dishes with basic steps are ideal for younger children, while older children can handle more complex recipes.
- Teach proper hygiene: Before starting the cooking process, emphasize the importance of hand washing. Make sure everyone involved washes their hands thoroughly with soap and warm water. Encourage children to tie back long hair and avoid touching their faces during cooking.
- Organize and prepare ingredients in advance: Gather all the necessary ingredients and utensils before involving the children. This reduces the time spent searching for things while keeping the focus on cooking and minimizes potential hazards.
- Set up a safe workspace: Clear the cooking area of any potential dangers. Keep sharp knives, hot pots, and pans out of reach. Use sturdy step stools or platforms for younger children to reach the counter safely.
- Demonstrate and explain techniques: Show children how to handle kitchen tools and appliances properly. Teach them the importance of using oven mitts, holding utensils correctly, and being cautious around hot surfaces.
- Supervise at all times: Never leave children unattended in the kitchen. Even if they’re capable of handling some tasks independently, be present to oversee their actions, provide guidance, and intervene if necessary.
- Use kid-friendly equipment: Opt for child-safe kitchen tools such as plastic knives, safety scissors, and non-slip cutting boards. These tools reduce the risk of accidents while still allowing children to actively participate.
- Practice knife safety: If you’re introducing your child to knife skills, start with a child-safe knife or a butter knife. Teach them proper techniques, like using a claw grip and cutting away from their bodies. Gradually progress to sharper knives as their skills develop.
- Monitor heat sources: Be cautious when using stovetops, ovens, or other heat sources (like the grill in our easy pizza recipe below!). Teach children to stay away from open flames and hot surfaces. Encourage them to use oven mitts or pot holders when handling hot pans and baking sheets.
- Be mindful of allergies and dietary restrictions: If any participants have allergies or dietary restrictions, ensure that all ingredients and utensils are safe for their consumption. Teach children to be aware of these considerations and respect others’ dietary needs.
- Clean as you go: Encourage children to clean up spills and messes promptly. This prevents slips and falls and maintains a tidy workspace throughout the cooking process.
- Have a fire safety plan: Discuss fire safety measures, such as using a fire extinguisher or smothering a small grease fire with a lid. Make sure children know how to respond in case of an emergency and when to seek adult help.
Remember, cooking with children should be fun. Embrace their curiosity, encourage creativity, and foster a love for food and cooking in a safe and supportive environment.
These selections make a whole meal for your family! Each recipe can be modified for taste and allergies, while still providing a balanced, healthy food options children can make themselves.
Appetizer–Fruit Salad Skewers:
What You’ll Need:
- Assorted fresh fruits (watermelon, pineapple, strawberries, grapes, etc.)
- Lettuce or greens of choice
- Wooden skewers
- Wash and chop fruits to approximate equal sizes or fun shapes.
- Wash and tear greens and layer on a small plate.
- Thread each piece of fruit onto the skewers; encourage patterns for creativity!
- Place two-three skewers per plate of greens.
- Optional: Add a dipping sauce or salad dressing of choice!
- Ages 2-4: Let your little ones wash the fruits, tear lettuce leaves, or put pre-cut fruits onto the skewers.
- Ages 5-7: Teach them how to cut soft fruits with a plastic knife or scissors under supervision.
- Ages 8-10: Allow them to use a real knife to cut fruits with close guidance.
Skills and Development:
- Fine motor skills: Handling small fruits, threading them onto skewers, and cutting with safety scissors or plastic knives helps improve hand-eye coordination and dexterity.
- Language and math skills: Discussing fruit names, colors, and shapes enhances vocabulary and introduces basic counting skills.
- Healthy eating habits: Encourages children to choose and enjoy a variety of fresh fruits.
Main Course–DIY Grilled Pita Pizzas:
What You’ll Need::
- Whole wheat pita bread
- Olive oil
- Tomato or pizza sauce
- Shredded cheese
- Assorted toppings (chopped vegetables, sliced olives, cooked chicken, etc.)
- Preheat the grill to Medium-High.
- Brush the pitas with olive oil on top.
- Spread the pizza sauce on the pita pizzas.
- Sprinkle the cheese on the pita pizzas.
- Add chopped toppings to the pizzas.
- Using a spatula, carefully put the pita pizzas on the grill.
- Cover the grill and cook for 5 minutes.
- Ages 2-4: Let them spread a thin layer of tomato sauce using a spoon and sprinkle cheese over the pita bread.
- Ages 5-7: Teach them how to chop soft vegetables with a child-safe knife or help assemble toppings.
- Ages 8-10: Allow them to use a real knife to cut vegetables with close supervision. Allow them to place the pizzas onto the grill.
Skills and Development:
- Cooking basics: children learn how to assemble ingredients, measure and spread sauces, and customize their own pizzas.
- Fine motor skills: Spreading sauce and sprinkling cheese improve hand-eye coordination and fine motor control.
- Creativity and decision-making: Choosing and arranging toppings foster creativity and decision-making skills.
Dessert–Frozen Yogurt Popsicles:
What You’ll Need:
- Greek yogurt
- Fresh fruits (berries, mango, banana, etc.)
- Honey or maple syrup (optional)
- Popsicle molds or small disposable cups
- Add the ingredients to a blender or food processor, reserving some small bits of fruit for decoration.
- Blend to combine well.
- Place small pieces of fruit at the bottom and/or sides of molds, in fun patterns if you choose.
- Pour yogurt mixture into small plastic cups or reusable popsicle molds.
- Freeze for at least 4 hours before serving. Remove from the molds or cups and enjoy.
- Ages 2-4: Allow them to help measure and pour yogurt into the molds or cups. They can also drop in small pieces of fruit.
- Ages 5-7: Teach them how to mix yogurt with honey or maple syrup for added sweetness. They can also help puree fruits using a blender.
- Ages 8-10: Allow them to handle the entire preparation process under supervision, including slicing fruits and filling the molds.
Skills and Development:
- Math skills: Measuring and pouring ingredients help children practice basic math concepts such as counting and fractions.
- Patience and self-control: Waiting for the popsicles to freeze teaches children patience and delayed gratification.
- Healthy choices: Encourages children to opt for nutritious snacks and explore different flavors while enjoying a refreshing summer treat.
There you have it! A fun, easy summer meal you can make at home with your children in less than an hour (minus freezing time! Maybe make the popsicles first!) Cooking with children during the summer is a fantastic way to create lasting memories while promoting valuable skills and development. By involving them in age-appropriate tasks, you provide opportunities for them to take the play kitchen to the real kitchen seamlessly.