Kids in the Kitchen
“Let me do it!” is a familiar cry from children when you are stirring ingredients or tending to a recipe. Atlanta Parent says let ’em. Cooking with kids creates lasting memories and helps teach valuable life skills. And while those lemon bars might not be super healthy, at least the family activity is.
by Kate Wallace
Never Too Many Cooks in this Family’s Kitchen
It’s not often that a 4-year-old is encouraged to play with knives. In Maddy Schroeder’s case, her parents were quite pleased when their budding chef took an interest. Ten years later, the kitchen is a familiar place to both Maddy, now 14, and brother Jackson, 12.
Both kids can say they caught the cooking bug from their dad Keith, who holds a culinary degree and is a former executive chef for several fine-dining restaurants in the area. Keith and wife Nicki live in East Cobb and are the owners of Atlanta-based High Road Craft Ice Cream and Sorbet. And yes, their kids are the official taste testers.
Cooking dinner together is a nightly family affair for the Schroeders – ever since the kids were little. “The kids were always hanging around the kitchen, so I started passing out jobs,” says Keith. He taught them how to properly use a knife by standing behind them and placing his hands over theirs on the knife.
“For us, cooking together is huge,” he says. “It’s such an important part of the kids’ cultural education. Food helps people understand so much, especially when it comes to other cultures.”
On some nights, Maddy and Jackson can sense that the strains of business ownership are taking a toll on their parents, so they’ll fully handle the dinner. “It’s pretty cool when the kids will say, ‘We’ll cook tonight, you guys go sit down,’” Keith says.
“Just the other night we made steak and salad,” says Maddy. “My brother pan-seared the steaks and I made a salad.” Maddy is thankful that she was taught to cook at a young age. “The first meal I remember cooking was chicken noodle soup,” she says. “I think I was 5, and I had a cold, so my dad helped me add red peppers to the soup. It definitely cleared up my sinuses.” These days, her favorite dish to make is baked salmon with asparagus. “I’m home after school a lot and I love being able to cook for my brother and I,” she says.
The family has a particularly special bond because of their mutual time in the kitchen. “Our relationship is strong,” Maddy says. “Cooking together helps us get connected because it’s where we talk about school and our day.”
The father-daughter duo recently took part in a Top Chef Kids competition at Midtown’s Taste of Atlanta event. They “winged it,” yet managed to win Best Presentation for their Thai coconut soup with crab, shrimp and shredded sweet potato.
To get children more interested in cooking, Keith recommends allowing the kids to come up with their own ideas. Parents, he contends, should encourage any dish a kid wants to make – no matter how simple or complicated. “Let the kids do the driving. They’re so resourceful,” he adds.
Everyday Kitchen for Kids: 100 Amazing Savory and Sweet Recipes Your Children Can Really Make by Jennifer Low (Whitecap Books, $29.95)
For parents who sometimes beg (and even trick) their children into trying new foods, Everyday Kitchen for Kids may help. This new collection of cutely named recipes is not just “kid food”; there are plenty of dishes adults will enjoy, too, that kids can enjoy making themselves.
Author Jennifer Low includes recipes that don’t require sharp knives, motorized appliances or stovetop cooking. From “Fin-tastic Fish Fillets” to “Rainy-Day Banana Bread,” you’ll find 100 recipes paired with enticing photographs and step-by-step directions.
Atlanta Parent asked sisters Colette, 8, and Isabella, 12, to test out some Everyday Kitchen recipes. After careful (and mouthwatering) consideration, choices were made and the girls went to work in their East Atlanta kitchen. Mom Carrie, while admittedly not the most enthusiastic household cook, says she was happy just to supervise rather than do half of the work; she especially enjoyed the “togetherness” of the activity.
The girls created four dishes: “Sugared Doughnut Puffs,” “Real Mac ’n’ Cheddar Cheese,” “Spinach and Mushroom Frittata” and “Cocoa-Kissed Banana Oatmeal.”
“Isabella was able to make the frittata all by herself,” Carrie says. “She ate it and loved it, although she typically would say that she does not like mushrooms.” The mac-and-cheese earned a unanimous “yummy” rating. Next, the doughnut recipe proved to be more of a challenge; the sisters say the taste seemed a bit “off,” and their “puffs” didn’t quite look like the photo in the book. As for the cocoa-dusted oatmeal with banana, the sisters added a bit more brown sugar than was called for to make the dish a tad sweeter; then they ate oatmeal for supper! Predicts Carrie: “I think we’ll have fun with these recipes for a long time.”
“The layout of each recipe is helpful and includes not just ingredients, but supplies too. I like that the recipes have cute names but are real meals that you’re happy to feed the whole family with.”
– Carrie Whitney
“It was really fun, but also challenging. Everything looked so good when I looked through the book. I want to make one of the cakes next.”
– Colette Whitney, 8
“The instructions were easy for me to follow and the food was really yummy. I’m looking forward to making other things, especially desserts. It was great!”
– Isabella Whitney, 12
Real Mac ’n’ Cheddar Cheese
(from Jennifer Low’s Everyday Kitchen for Kids)
Makes 3 cups
2 ½-quart glass or ceramic baking dish, baking spatula, measuring cups, measuring spoons, foil (or lid of baking dish), bowls, whisk, wooden spoon
1 ½ cups uncooked elbow macaroni
1 tsp. vegetable oil
2 ¹⁄³ cups warm tap water
¼ cup unsalted butter
3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
½ tsp. dry mustard
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. white sugar
¼ tsp. onion powder
¹⁄8 tsp. chili powder
1 cup milk
1 ½ cups pre-grated cheddar cheese
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
½ cup dry breadcrumbs
pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 375.
In the baking dish and using a baking spatula, mix the macaroni with the vegetable oil until the macaroni is well coated.
Pour the warm water onto the macaroni. Cover tightly with a lid or foil. Bake for 30 minutes. Get help taking it out of the oven. Keep covered for at least another 15 minutes. The macaroni softens some more and the baking dish cools off a bit.
Meanwhile, make the sauce. In a large microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter in the microwave at 50 percent power (about 1 minute). Use a whisk to mix in the flour until smooth. Then mix in the dry mustard, salt, sugar, onion powder, and chili powder. Gradually whisk in the milk until smooth.
Heat the sauce in the microwave on high for 1 minute (or longer, but only 1 minute at a time so it doesn’t foam over), until the sauce is bubbly and thickened. Get help removing the bowl from the microwave. Cool slightly so the bowl isn’t too hot to touch.
Stir the cheddar into the sauce. The cheese does not need to be fully melted in right now. Set aside.
Next make the breadcrumb topping. In a large microwave-safe bowl, heat 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter in the microwave at 50 percent power until melted. Mix in the breadcrumbs and salt. Use the back of a wooden spoon to mash the breadcrumbs into the butter to break up lumps.
Get help uncovering the dish of macaroni (there should be some water left in the bottom of the dish). Using a baking spatula, scrape the cheese sauce onto the macaroni. Stir well. Spread the macaroni evenly in the dish. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top. Bake, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are lightly golden.
Tips for Getting Kids Interested in Cooking
Engaging your kids in the kitchen could spark a lifelong interest and keep them wanting to learn more. Even the pickiest of eaters are more likely to try something they helped to make. Jennifer Fox, owner of Young Chefs Academy in Sandy Springs, shares these tips:
- Bring kids into the kitchen with you, even if just to watch.
- Start them off by teaching them to crack an egg or measure a cup of flour.
- Teach them the difference between a teaspoon and a tablespoon; and a cup and half a cup.
- Have the kids help create a grocery list; this helps promote organization.
- Kids are much more likely to taste, and even like, a “weird” dish if they helped make it.
- Microwave an egg or a marshmallow and ask your child to watch what happens. This could inspire them to experiment with other foods (in your presence, or course).
- For middle school kids, suggest a “pizza-making party” as an activity at a sleepover. Older kids like to do things in groups, and making pizza is a great learning opportunity. It will feed them, too!
- Desserts such as cookies, brownies and cupcakes are great dishes for budding chefs because they involve a lot of mixing and measuring – the parts kids love to do.
Young Chefs Academy offers cooking classes to children that encourage discovery and creativity. Georgia locations are Sandy Springs, 404-255-9263; North Druid Hills, 404-633-2633; and Marietta, 770-427-2665.
For a list of more kids cooking classes and camps throughout the area, visit atlantaparent.com.