The Whole Family
Cooking With Your Kids
Is cooking a dying art? In many families, both parents work leaving little time to prepare meals. The growing reliance on fast and processed foods is one of the main causes of obesity in the United States. If we are going to reverse this trend, we need to get back into the kitchen to prepare meals—and get our children in there with us.
by Cathe Olson
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When you give them a chance, you may be surprised at how adept your children can be in the kitchen. Young children can wash fruits and veggies, scrub carrots and potatoes, tear and spin lettuce. Older children can read and follow recipes, measure ingredients, and even prepare a meal on their own. My 7 and 9-year-old daughters love to present my husband and I with a Müesli breakfast (recipe below) on the weekends and it just warms my heart to hear them whispering and giggling as they work together to surprise us.
My 9-year-old bakes muffins on the weekends that I freeze and put in their lunchboxes during the week. The first time we tried this, I was amazed at how little help she needed and, after a couple of times, she didn't need my help at all. Our favorite family meal to make together is pizza. We work together to make the dough and chop the toppings and then everyone adorns their portion of the pizza to his or her liking. Make-your-own tacos and burritos are also fun. The possibilities are endless. Get some good basic cookbooks with family friendly recipes. Mollie Katzen has some wonderful cookbooks geared for children, but really any good basic cookbook will do.
Following are some kitchen chores that your children can help with:
Chopping and Slicing
Even a preschooler can slice a banana or soft fruit with a butter knife. I also love the plastic "lettuce knife" that are sold in many supermarkets as well as online. It is the size of a regular chopping knife but made of plastic strong enough to slice apples and other firm fruits and vegetables and is completely safe. My 9-year-old is fine with a real knife though I admit I still hover close by while she's cutting.
Kids love to bake. Let your child measure and pour ingredients, sift flour, stir batter, oil muffin tins and cookie sheets, scoop out cooking dough (a little ice cream scoop or melon baller works great), chop nuts (older kids), frost cupcakes, and decorate cookies.
Wait until your child is tall enough to reach and see into pots and pans on the stove. (Don't ever stand a child in a chair by the stove unless you are holding on to her the whole time it's too dangerous). My daughters love to make breakfast burritos my younger daughter warms the tortillas and the older one cooks the scrambled tofu. Pancakes are also fun for kids to make (see the easy pancake mix recipe in Vegan Holiday Gifts). Cooking them on the griddle is really fun for older kids, but encourage them to make silver-dollar-size pancakes, they're easier to flip.
Here are some a few meals kids can make almost totally on their own:
My kids love to make their own oatmeal. While I boil a kettle of water, they fill their bowl with quick cooking or regular rolled oats, raisins or other dried fruit, nuts, and a little cinnamon. I pour the boiling water over it, they stir it up and there's breakfast.
Kids can make their own sandwiches to take to school or eat at home. Almond butter and jam, hummus and cucumber, avocado and mayonnaise are some of our favorites.
My kids love to make their own snacks when they get home from school. Tortilla chips topped with beans, sliced olives, salsa, and nondairy cheese in the microwave or toaster oven for a few seconds are fun to make and eat. Soy yogurt topped with fresh fruit, nuts, and granola make a yummy sundae.
Following are a few recipes to get you and your children cooking together.
This cereal can be made all year round. Use whatever fruit is in season.
- 2 cups rolled oats
- 1 1/2 cups nondairy milk
- 1 peach or nectarine, diced
- 2 apricots or plums, diced
- 1 cup berries (raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, etc.)
- 1/2 cup sunflower seeds or chopped almonds
Mix oats and milk together in large bowl. Let sit while you prepare fruit or place in refrigerator overnight. Mix in remaining ingredients. Eat immediately or refrigerate for later.
Makes 6 servings
Vanilla Crunch Granola
- 1 cup steel-cut oats
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 1/4 cup slivered almonds
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
- 1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds
- 1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds
- 1/3 cup maple syrup
- 1/4 cup oil
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, combine steel-cut oats, rolled oats, almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, maple syrup, oil, vanilla, and salt. Spread on baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes or until golden brown, stirring every 5 minutes. Remove from oven and cool. Put granola in bowl and stir in the raisins and coconut. Store in airtight container up to 1 month.
Makes about 4 cups
- 1 package corn tortillas
- Olive oil
- Chili pepper (optional)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Brush corn tortillas lightly with oil. Stack a few on top of each other. Use a pizza cutter or knife to cut then into eights. Lay the wedges in a single layer on a cookie sheet and sprinkle lightly with salt. You can sprinkle on some chili powder as well if you like them a little spicy.
Bake for 8 to 12 minutes, or until crisp.
- 1 to 2 avocados
- 1 to 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- Sea salt
Cut avocados in half and remove pit. Scoop out the green avocado and put in a bowl. Sprinkle juice and salt and mash well. Taste it and add more salt if necessary.
Whole Grain-Sesame Pretzels
Your children will love kneading and shaping these.
- 2 cups whole wheat or rye flour
- 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 3/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 3/4 cup nondairy milk
- 1 tablespoon agave nectar or brown rice syrup
- 2 quarts boiling water
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 1/4 cup sesame seeds
In large bowl, mix 1 cup of the flour with yeast and salt. Heat milk and sweetener over low heat until warm but not hot and add to flour mixture. Beat vigorously for 3 minutes. Stir in remaining flour. On wet surface with wet hands, knead dough for approximately 8 minutes, or until dough is smooth and elastic. Keep surface and hands wet enough to prevent dough from sticking. Form dough into ball. Place in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with a damp cloth and let dough rise in a warm place for one hour, or until doubled in size.
Press down dough. Divide it into 16 equal parts. Roll pieces into 12-inch long ropes. To form pretzels, shape each rope into a circle with ends overlapping 3 inches. Twist strands where circle joins. Bring over-laps to opposite end, and tuck them under edge. Press to seal. Place pretzels on floured board. Cover with damp cloth and let rise 20 minutes. Meanwhile, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in large pot.
Preheat oven to 350º. Oil large baking sheet. Dissolve salt in water. Lower 3 pretzels at a time into boiling water. After 45 seconds, remove pretzels from water with a slotted spoon. Place them on prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from baking sheet, and cool on wire rack.
These are great energy boosters and packed with calcium and iron. There great in a lunchbox or for snacks.
- 1/4 cup almonds
- 1/4 cup walnuts
- 1 cup raisins
- dried figs or dates, pits removed
- 1/4 cup carob powder
- 2 teaspoons blackstrap molasses
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger or 1/8 teaspoon powdered
- Pinch sea salt
- About 2 tablespoons water
- Carob powder or unsweetened shredded coconut for rolling
Place almonds and walnuts in food processor with metal blade and pulse to chop. Add raisins, figs or dates, molasses, vanilla, cardamom, ginger, and sea salt. Process until everything is uniformly chopped. Add water a little at a time until mixture holds together. Roll into 1-inch balls. Roll balls in shredded coconut or carob powder if desired. Keep balls refrigerated if you are planning to keep them around more than a day or two.
Makes about 2 dozen
Note: Other nuts or seeds can be substituted for the almonds and walnuts.
This moist, spiced cake is easy to make and so delicious. Cut leftovers (if any) into squares and freeze to put in lunchboxes.
- 1/4 cup oil
- 1/2 cup maple syrup, brown rice syrup, or agave nectar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
- 3/4 cup raisins
- 3/4 cup chopped walnuts
- 2 cups whole wheat or whole wheat pastry flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Oil a 10-inch round cake pan or 8- or 9-inch square baking pan. Beat oil, maple syrup, and vanilla together until smooth. Stir in applesauce, raisins, and walnuts. In separate bowl, sift remaining ingredients together. Dough will be stiff. Spread into prepared pan. Bake 30 minutes, or until cake pulls away from edges of pan and knife inserted in center comes out dry. Cool on rack. Serve cake plain or with whipped tofu topping. It's also delicious frosted.
Makes 12 servings