In high school, I was a stickler about making and packing my own lunch. After school, I made quesadillas, grilled cheeses or random creations based off what was in the fridge; I’d cut up fruit for myself or for my sister, make banana bread and more. Once I’d had a snack, I’d then follow my mom’s instructions for defrosting meat or mixing up a marinade so she could skip a step when she got home. When she made dinner, I would make the rice or roti that went with it. During the summertime, I’d re-create salads I liked from takeout places, and tried and failed many times to make biscuits. It helped that I was — and still am — a person who absolutely loves to eat.
Not every child will take to cooking the way I did, but there is one sure way of discovering if they have the inclination: Let them cook. If you’re interested in giving it a go, even letting them handle a simple step here and there can be an amazing building block. If they’re younger, be prepared for some messes (and have them help clean up, if only to prevent them from becoming That Roommate later on). If they’re teens, let them figure it out on their own, though, of course, let them know you’re there if they have questions. Little kids may enjoy sensory tasks like squishing, smashing, mixing and rolling items, while older kids might be more interested in the chemistry of baking or experimenting with flavors. Best of all, you can show them when it’s important to follow directions to the letter and when you know you can improvise.
Below, you’ll find recipes with steps that can teach kids some basic cooking skills. One may be just right for your child. You know your kid(s) best!
Pop Pop’s Potato Cakes, pictured above. This recipe was published in 2015 and was written by a teenager; These potato cakes are a recipe from her grandfather that she tweaked with extra seasoning and a sauce. Her advice: “Even, slow heat will help develop the nice crust without burning, and it will ensure the cakes are warmed through and through.” You’ll need to refrigerate the potato mixture at least six hours or overnight before forming the patties — and again, briefly, after the patties are formed — so consider this a lesson in patience. Kids might enjoy mashing the potatoes and shaping the patties, and this is a good “learn how to pan-fry” recipe for when you think they’re ready to handle the stove.
Banana Pancakes. If you get one weekend morning together, just one, make banana pancakes. Teach little ones to measure and mix, make funny shapes in the pan and show them how to tell when it’s the right time to flip.
Deli Salad Sandwich: 3 Ways. If you’re ready to teach some basic knife skills, this super easy salad-sandwich format needs chopped celery and scallion, both of which are easy to handle and won’t cause tears (looking at you onions). And if you’re not? Pre-chop the ingredients for them and let them measure things out and have fun mashing and mixing.
Baked Falafel. There are a lot of different ways your kid can learn from this recipe. Maybe they’re ready to learn to measure out spices and infuse the flavors on the stove. Maybe they’ll enjoy learning how the food processor works. Or maybe they’ll like to scoop up the falafel mixture and shape it into patties. And if they don’t enjoy making these, they’ll certainly enjoy eating them.
Conversion Pound Cake. Food writer Allison Robicelli home-schools her kids and learned that math isn’t quite as painful to learn (or teach) when it results in cake. Measure out ingredients together (or let them do it on their own), then show them how to convert to grams and back. Or skip the conversion lesson and practice fractions by cutting and eating the cake. Want other recipes for teaching? Read her story here.
Corn, Black Bean and Red Onion Quesadillas. When I was a teen, I think my favorite after-school snack must have been quesadillas. This is quite possibly our easiest (and fastest) quesadilla recipe, and it’s one you can have your kid follow along with. You can teach them how to defrost frozen corn in the microwave, how to layer up a quesadilla and if you think they’re ready for the stove, show them how to fry and flip them. Or you can bake these and show them how the oven works! These Quesadillas With Onion and Poblano Chile Peppers are great for explaining basic chopping and sauteing skills. Want to go way over the top? Make Barbecue Sweet Potato Tortizzas, a fun combination of pizzas and quesadillas.
Tomato Egg Drop Soup. Here’s another one created by a teenager that I absolutely love. If your kid is ready to chop, sauté and simmer, let them go right ahead! And if they’re not, they’ll still have fun learning to whip the eggs and pour them into the hot soup.