Cooking with children can be a really fun experience for everyone. It is a fantastic opportunity to bond, learn, and empower children with the experience of cooking. Organization is the key to any successful cooking experience. This initial step is especially important when working with an enthusiastic capable young person.
When I cook with children, I begin the experience with a simple conversation, “what do you like to eat and what do you like/want to make?” These questions establish a great platform to begin the process. First, it allows me to gauge their pallet. Some children are more adventurous eaters than others. Second, it allows the child to be engaged from start to finish. Creating a sense of ownership fosters enthusiasm, respect for the ingredients, and creates a fun space to learn and work together.
After we've established what we are making, we mise en place. This French term literally means “everything in its place.” We gather our ingredients, pots and pans, cutting board, knives, and any other equipment needed to begin cooking. I usually create lists of what we need and split it between us. This is another great beginning creating ownership in the dish being created.
Once we have our ingredients and equipment, we read the recipe again, together. This is something key in all aspects of cooking. Reading a recipe before you begin cooking gives you an understanding of the process and it familiarizes you so mistakes are less likely to occur. Reading together also creates a perfect time for questions. If there is a measurement or abbreviation of an ingredient your sous chef doesn't understand, this is the time to explain it. We are setting ourselves up for success.
Now the cooking can begin! I have a couple rules for myself when working with a young sous chef. First, I delegate appropriate tasks. A twelve year old has the ability to do different things than a seven year old. Find age appropriate engaging things to do. For example, I'd teach the twelve year old how to cut an onion with a proper chef's knife while allowing the seven year old to measure ingredients, mix and stir things on the stove (with a stool and a watchful eye). I remember being able to beat the eggs for breakfast at four or five years old and being able to move them around in a hot pan with a spatula at age six. Every child's ability will be different.
I also let my young sous chef know they have to wait for me to do anything hot. This is a rule for safety. Again, age will make a huge difference.
One of my favorite recipes to do together is Bowtie Pasta with Bacon and Peas. It I easy and delicious.
8 ounces uncooked (bow tie pasta)
3 bacon slices
1/2 cup onion, diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 cup unsalted chicken broth
1 cup frozen green peas
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
3 ounces cream cheese
- Pre-heat oven to 375
- Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/4 cup cooking liquid.
- Place bacon on a cookie sheet with sides and bake in the oven until cooked through, approximately 10 minutes. Drain on a paper towel and chop.
- In a large sauté pan, add 1 tablespoon of the bacon grease over medium heat.
- Once the bacon fat is hot, add the onions and carrots and cook until the onions are soft stirring consistently.
- Add the broth and bring to a boil.
- Add the peas and cook until hot through, approximately 2-3 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the reserved cooking liquid.
- Add the chopped bacon, thyme, salt, pepper and cream cheese to pan.
- Once cream cheese is almost melted, add the pasta and toss to coat. Serve immediately.
Enjoy the experience and the wonderful meal you've created together.