Cooking is much more than preparing food. Easy recipes for kids target a great many important skills — math (counting, measuring), science (understanding temperature, chemistry, physics), reading, and following directions. Cooking also develops dexterity (mixing, shaping, chopping, pouring), and goes even deeper than that. “Teaching children to cook at a young age builds confidence, character and communication skills,” says Idaho-based homeschooling mom and blogger Janine LaTulippe. “It gives them a way to contribute to the family so they feel important, needed and respected.”
Empowering kids to make their own snacks or create an entire meal for the family is an important life skill. It gives them ownership of a process that’s important and special. It’s also a great way to get kids to try new foods and especially to eat their vegetables, says Dr. Lisa Young, registered dietitian and author of “The Portion Teller Plan.”
“Get kids involved in preparation and cooking to get kids used to eating healthy foods,” she urges. Beyond the early childhood years, cooking becomes even more important as young adults learn to care for themselves. “I always tell my kids, even if they aren’t chefs, they will be surrounded by food their whole lives,” says chef Debra Ponzek of Aux Delices Foods, author of “The Family Kitchen.” “They should know how to be independent and prepare healthy meals for themselves or their friends.”
Here are 14 easy recipes for kids to make by themselves. Some are easy enough for toddlers. Others are more appropriate for school-aged children who can use an oven or stovetop with some supervision by a parent or nanny.
- Yogurt or Pudding Parfaits
Ponzek suggests having kids layer yogurt or pudding with granola, cereal, banana chips, lemon curd, chocolate chips or anything else you can think of.
- Pretend Soup
This fruit-filled recipe combining yogurt and fruit comes from “Pretend Soup and Other Real Recipes,” a cookbook by Mollie Katzen and Ann Henderson.
- Fabulous French Toast
From Kidshealth.org and the Nemours Foundation, this classic breakfast uses a bit of vanilla extract.
- Salad Snack on a Stick
From Barefeet in the Kitchen, this recipe makes eating salad appealingly one-handed.
- Banana Sushi
Registered dietitian Desiree Nielsen recommends these nutritiously sweet roll-ups.
- Mac and Cheese Muffins
Mix leftover mac and cheese, one egg plus one egg white and bite-sized vegetables. Bake at 400 degrees in a greased muffin tin for 10 to 15 minutes. This recipe is based on one from Emily Bites.
- Toasted Bagel Bruschetta
Ponzek suggests toasting a bagel half, spreading it with ricotta cheese and topping it with sliced fruit. Or make it a savory snack by layering prosciutto or sliced tomatoes over the cheese.
- Baked Spaghetti Squash
Kids love turning this healthy vegetable into spaghetti. To cook, use a fork to poke several holes in a whole spaghetti squash to vent and microwave for 6 to 7 minutes until it softens. Slice it in half lengthwise. When it cools, let kids scoop out the seeds and then rake their fork over the strands to turn it into spaghetti! Mix it with butter, cinnamon and sugar or stir in tomato sauce and cheese.
This meal idea from Inspired by Family Mag is ambitious and messy — but satisfying! To make it a little less labor-intensive, skip the dough making and buy wonton wrappers found in the refrigerated vegetable aisle of your local supermarket.
- Homemade Pizza
For this pizza crust recipe from LaTulippe’s True Aim Education blog, buy dough or get a ready-made crust. Kids add toppings, bake and serve.
- Baked Potato Bar
Set one up and let kids customize the add-ins.
- Spaghetti Tacos
The New York Times reported this interesting combination first seen on “iCarly.” Toss spaghetti in tomato sauce and serve it in a taco shell. Don’t knock it till you try it!
Snacks and Sides
- Slow-Cooking Applesauce
Older kids can develop their cutting skills with this recipe from Faithfully Nourished.
- Oatmeal Bites
These applesauce oatmeal bites from Laughing Kids Learn are easy, even for toddlers.
When you teach kids to cook and care for themselves starting at a young age, you’re fostering independence, confidence and creativity. As a bonus, you’ll get to sit back once in a while and have them cook for you!
Want more recipes? Check out these 18 Healthy Recipes to Make With Toddlers.
Cara Stevens has been cooking with her own little chefs for 13 years. Getting creative in the kitchen with DIY dinners and happy mixes has created two little foodies who love to experiement and play with their food — in a good way!