Fun at home: The time is right to cook with kids

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In December, I had dear friends and their two grandchildren visiting for a weekend. We did many fun holiday activities out and about, with Santa and trains and holiday lights.

But on Saturday night I brought the kids, Molly 10, and Declan, 7, into my kitchen to make pizza, a first for them.

I made a quick sauce while they grated mozzarella cheese. Then I handed them small rolling pins and set them up with dough and flour. They made mini pizzas of assorted shapes. One made them with all cheese only, the other only sauce. I put them on the pizza bricks we had heated in the oven.

We were all covered in flour, mostly me. But we had fun, so much fun. Best was that they ate everything they made.

Now that parents are home with kids, self-distancing and staying safe, life has slowed down. It’s okay to head into the kitchen and have some fun.

I have just the help you need to get started, America’s Test Kitchen Kids and its editor-in-chief Molly Birnbaum. She just happens to live in Providence with her family, including two kids, an infant and 3-year-old Olive, with whom she is cooking daily, she said in a phone interview Saturday.

Though there have always been cookbooks for children, “they’ve had a tendency to talk down to kids and have silly recipes,” she said.

But that is not the style of Boston-based America’s Test Kitchen, which for 20 years has been educating people on ingredients, equipment and how to cook through magazines, television shows, cookbooks and videos.

In 2018, they launched America’s Test Kitchen for Kids at atkkids.com. They saw the demand and interest.

Because of coronavirus and its current life-altering changes, they have taken the paywalls down at americastestkitchen.com/kids/home for the daily videos, activities, recipes and experiments for kids and their grownups.

READ: Questions and answers about COVID-19, the coronavirus disease

On the site, you’ll also find a membership in the Young Chefs Club. There’s a subscription service that delivers a monthly box with craft and science projects, recipes and usually a utensil.

America’s Test Kitchen Kids also publishes cookbooks. The fourth and most recent came out last month for their youngest market yet. “My First Cookbook” is for children 5 to 8 years of age, and offers visual step-by-step instructions for all 60 recipes. Birnbaum edited the book.

It was designed for kids and their grownups to have fun spending time away from screens, she said.

“We included as much mixing, rolling, scrunching, smashing and squishing as possible to keep kids engaged and excited for each dish that they cook,” she said.

She gets it.

As with all recipes published by America’s Test Kitchen Kids, the cookbook recipes go out to be vetted to 8,000 kid recipe testers, though not all at the same time, Birnbaum said. They don’t publish unless they get 80 percent kid approval.

Cooking with kids addresses their interest in where their food comes from, she said. It also expands their palates, some of which are picky.

“We really tried to make recipes for this book interesting,” Birnbaum she said. “It’s a simple place to start, with recipes that are easy and delicious.”

Three recipes are shared here. There’s one for chicken tenders, a perennial kid favorite. One for scrambled eggs is something some adults can learn to cook, too. And there’s one for a no-bake treat, with two flavor variations.

Birnbaum encourages kids and their parents to get in a routine cooking together. That can be a habit that is sustainable even when everyone starts going their own way again.

She lives what she preaches. She has been doing a cooking project each day with Olive. By doing one thing each day in the kitchen, it may not seem not so overwhelming for parents, she said.

When they made French Toast, Olive dipped the bread in the liquid while her mother cooked it. Older kids can beat up the eggs and also learn the science of cooking.

But she had her daughter do what was correct for her age.

“It was super fun,” said Birnbaum. She says that a lot.

“I’m a big believer in giving children something they can make their own,” she said. “Cooking is such a good way to let kids be creative and teach them at the same time.”

Don’t look for perfection, though.

“One of the tenets of our brand (America’s Test Kitchen) is that mistakes are okay, and part of learning,” she said.

And don’t worry about the mess. Many kids enjoy cleaning up with their grownups.

For more help, there’s the new Kitchen Classroom —a free weekly curriculum filled with recipes, science experiments and activities. You can find the week’s curriculm at americastestkitchen.com/articles/2258-kitchen-classroom-week-2

Parmesan Chicken Tenders

Dry measuring cups

Measuring spoons

Shallow dish

Wooden spoon

Large bowl

Whisk

Large plate

12-inch nonstick skillet

Tongs

Instant-read thermometer

Serving platter

1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese (3 ounces)

1 cup panko bread crumbs

1/2 teaspoon plus 1/4 teaspoon salt, measured separately

3 large eggs

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 pound chicken tenderloins

2 tablespoons plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, measured separately

Gather equipment.

In shallow dish, stir together Parmesan, panko, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Coat: In bowl, whisk together eggs, flour, and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt. Add chicken to egg mixture and turn to coat well.

Dredge: Remove 1 piece of chicken, letting extra egg drip off, and add to dish with Parmesan mixture. Gently press Parmesan mixture onto chicken. Transfer to plate. Repeat with remaining chicken.

Cook: Heat 2 tablespoons oil in skillet over medium heat for 1 minute. Add half of chicken and cook until registering 165 degrees, 6 to 7 minutes, flipping halfway. Repeat with remaining chicken.

Total Time: 35 minutes

Serves 4

Cranberry-Almond No-Bake Energy Bites

Dry measuring cups

Measuring spoons

Large bowl

Rubber spatula

Plate

Plastic wrap

3/4 cup (2 1/4 ounces) old-fashioned rolled oats

1/3 cup peanut, almond, or sunflower butter

1/3 cup sliced almonds

1/3 cup dried cranberries

2 tablespoons honey

1/8 teaspoon salt

Gather equipment.

Stir all ingredients in bowl with rubber spatula until well combined.

Shape: Use your wet hands to roll mixture into 12 balls (about 1 tablespoon each). Place balls on plate and cover with plastic wrap.

Chill: Refrigerate balls until firm, at least 30 minutes.

Variations: Use 1/3 cup chocolate chips instead of the almonds and 1/3 cup raisins instead of the dried cranberries to make these Chocolate-Raisin.

Use 1/3 cup sweetened coconut flakes instead of the almonds and 1/3 cup dried blueberries instead of dried cranberries to make these Blueberry-Coconut.

Total Time: 15 minutes, plus 30 minutes chilling time

Makes 12 bites

Notes: You can add 1 tablespoon of chia seeds or ground flax seed to oat mixture, if desired. Energy bites can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to three days.

Cheesy Scrambled Eggs

Measuring spoons

Butter knife

Dry measuring cups

Large Bowl

Fork

12-inch nonstick skillet

Rubber spatula

8 large eggs

1/8 teaspoon salt

Pinch pepper

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 cup shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese (1 ounce)

Gather equipment.

Add eggs, salt and pepper to bowl and beat with a fork until very well combines, about 30 seconds. In skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat, swirling to coat skillet. Add egg mixture and use rubber spatula to constantly scrape bottom and sides of skillet until eggs begin to clump, 1 to 2 minutes.

Reduce heat to low. Sprinkle cheddar over eggs. Gently and constantly stir eggs until clumped and slightly wet, about 1 minutes. Turn off heat.

Note: You can try out different cheeses, such as shredded Monterey Jack, crumbled feta or grated Parmesan to see which you like best with your eggs. You can also add 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh herbs (such as chives, parsley or dill), 2 cups of chopped baby spinach, 1/4 cup of chopped deli ham or halved cherry tomatoes or one or two slices of crumbled cooked bacon.

Total time: 15 minutes

Serves 4

gciampa@providencejournal.com

(401) 277-7266

On Twitter: @gailciampa

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