As long as I’ve been a chef, I’ve been a huge proponent of teaching kids to cook. Now, as the mom of a 5-year-old, this has now become very important in our household. Not only am I teaching valuable, lifelong skills to my child but we’re bonding in a whole new way. And he gets more excited to eat the food we prepare together.
Now that we are spending more time at home, what a great opportunity we have to teach our kids to cook! Baking is a great way to get kids started, but don’t rule out having them help with a family meal. Here are a few ideas for getting your kids into the kitchen.
Get your kids involved with planning the weekly meals. Let them pick out new recipes and write the shopping list. Teach them how to choose a balanced meal, what a serving size looks like, ideas on using leftovers to make new dishes and how to read an ingredient label. This builds valuable skills like organization and planning. It also gives them the feeling of participation in the family when they get to help with decision making.
Basic cooking techniques
When I was growing up, a home economics (Home Ec) class was a school requirement and where we learned the basics. These days we’re lucky if it’s an elective in schools. So instead, you can make cooking one of the afterschool activities you do together at home. It’s a great way to spend time with your kids and teach them skills they’ll use their entire lives.
Don’t sweat it if you’re not a trained chef. Teach your kids what you know: how to hold a knife, make your favorite recipe, grill a steak or basic kitchen safety. If they really love mac and cheese, skip the stuff in a box and make it from scratch. Ask them to grate the cheese, boil the pasta and stir the sauce.
I’ve read the cookbooks that show parents how to hide vegetables in their kids’ food. To me, this feels deceptive. How is a child supposed to learn how to eat vegetables if they don’t know they’re in there in the first place? Teach your kids how to properly cook vegetables – instead of boiling or steaming, try roasting, searing or grilling. This makes vegetables more flavorful and prevents them from getting too mushy. For kids who are big texture eaters, this is a big deal!
Fruits and vegetables taste better when they’re in season. Green beans or strawberries in the middle of winter don’t have any flavor. That’s because they’re grown in warmer climates like Mexico, Chile and Argentina, picked green (because ripe produce doesn’t travel well) and shipped long distances. But fruits and vegetables that are grown locally and picked ripe are full of flavor, vitamins and nutrients. Eating fresh regional produce also allows you to support local farmers,
Yes, it takes a lot longer to cook with kids by your side. Since I’ve been working at home, I’ve been doing recipe development in our kitchen. Because my child really wants to help, it takes twice the amount of time. But to me, it’s worth it. Not only does he get some very valuable skills – teamwork and basic cooking techniques – but he’s also more excited to eat the food we make.
Right now, we all hold a unique opportunity in our hands. Let’s teach our kids that cooking can be fun, exciting and better for us. Studies show that when we cook from scratch, we consume less and the food we make is healthier for our bodies. What a great lesson to teach the next generation.
Happy (and healthy) cooking! Remember to stay safe and stay home!
Three Cheese Mac and Cheese
From the kitchen of Chef Tse
This homemade mac and cheese feeds a crowd and leftovers can be frozen! Use any combination of cheeses you have at home. Feel free to add things like leftover chicken, sausage, sautéed veggies or ground beef before baking.
1 pound elbow macaroni or other fun pasta
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
3 cups 2% cold milk
Pinch of ground nutmeg
2 ounces grated Parmesan, about 1 cup
3 ounces grated sharp cheddar cheese, about 1 cup
1.5 ounces blue cheese
1/4 cup Panko or breadcrumbs
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and undercook by two minutes. For example, if package instructions say to cook pasta 7 minutes, only cook it 5. Drain pasta and return to pot. Cover and keep warm.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Sprinkle over flour and cook 2 minutes, stirring often. Slowly whisk in milk. Add nutmeg, a pinch of salt and a generous pinch of ground pepper. Bring to a boil and cook until béchamel starts to thicken, stirring often, especially around corners, about 5 minutes. Add all cheeses and stir until melted. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
Pour cheese sauce over pasta and mix well. Pour mixture into an 8x8 baking dish and sprinkle breadcrumbs over top. Bake in oven 7 to 10 minutes until macaroni is hot. If desired, broil 1 – 2 minutes to brown top. Serve hot.
Nutritional information per serving:
Calories: 315; total fat: 11g; cholesterol: 31mg; sodium (not including additional seasoning): 256mg; carbohydrate: 41g; total dietary fiber: 2g; protein: 14g
Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies
From the kitchen of Chef Tse
This is my mom’s recipe for chocolate chip cookies. They’re still treats but she swapped out the flour for whole wheat and cut the amount of sugar by half. This recipe makes half a normal batch so we’re not as tempted to eat them all!
Makes about 20 cookies
1 1/8 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg, room temperature
6 ounces chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine butter, brown sugar, and vanilla extract. Using the paddle attachment, beat until creamy and fluffy. Beat in egg. Gradually add the dry ingredients and mix well. Still in chocolate chips and nuts. Drop by spoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 10 minutes. Remove from baking sheet and let cool on a wire rack.
Chocolate and Hazelnut Granola Bites
From the kitchen of Chef Tse
These are fun to make as a whole family because they are truly hands-on. They make great afternoon snacks for walks, bike rides and hikes.
Makes 30 bites
1 cup rolled oats (not instant)
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup raw, unsalted pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup raw, unsalted sunflower seeds
1/2 cup chopped raw, unsalted hazelnuts
1.5 ounces 72% dark chocolate, chopped fine
1/2 cup light-colored honey, such as clover
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons sesame seeds
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, toss together oats, wheat germ, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and hazelnuts. Spread mixture on a baking sheet and toast in oven 15 minutes, tossing once.
While mixture is toasting, heat together honey, brown sugar and butter in a small saucepan until sugar and butter have melted. Let cool 10 minutes.
In a medium bowl, mix together oat mixture and chocolate. Add honey mixture and mix until well combined with a wooden spoon. Chocolate will melt slightly.
Place sesame seeds in a shallow dish and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Put on gloves and spray hands with nonstick cooking spray. Pinch off a walnut-size ball of mixture and roll into a ball between palms. Roll ball in sesame seeds and set on parchment. Repeat with the remaining mixture until you have about 30 bites. Let stand at room temperature one hour until bites are set.
Nutritional information per 2 bites:
Calories: 206; total fat: 10g; cholesterol: 4mg; sodium: 4mg; carbohydrate: 26g; total dietary fiber: 3g; protein: 5g
About Chef Tse
After 12 years in marketing and sales, Tse shed her corporate responsibilities and headed to France. There she studied both cuisine and pastry at Le Cordon Bleu Paris, finishing first in both disciplines. After graduation, she turned her sights on Parisian kitchens, completing a grueling internship at Le Restaurant Guy Savoy, a three Michelin-star restaurant. She then studied pastry at the internationally famous Pierre Hermé making macarons, cakes, and composed desserts.
When she returned to the U.S., Tse was a regular guest KATU Channel 2’s AM Northwest cooking seasonal ingredients with the hosts. Tse also became the Healthy Cooking Ambassador for Regence BlueCross BlueShield teaching cooking classes, filming videos, doing demos and creating recipes. She joined the Providence team in 2016, overseeing the operations at three cafes at Saint Vincent Hospital. Tse has also spent seven years teaching students at all three Portland culinary schools: The Art Institute of Portland's International Culinary Program, Le Cordon Bleu and Oregon Culinary Institute. She is now a Culinary Consultant for Sysco Portland where she helps restaurants with menu design, recipe development and staff training.
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