Cooking with kids, and showing them how to prepare healthy and delicious whole-food, plant-based meals, has so many benefits. They learn to read recipes, follow instructions, and carry out basic food preparation. There are also the less tangible, infinitely rich benefits of working side by side with parents or loved ones: learning that food matters, meal times matter, and you matter. Here are five tips for cooking with kids, and eleven simple recipes to get started.
Relax. Enjoy the experience. Being together is half the fun. Show them your tricks and learn new ones together. A love of preparing great-tasting nutritious food sets best when allowed to simmer over time. No pressure required.
2. Never too young to start
As long as they’re supervised and given age-appropriate tasks, it’s never too early to have children in the kitchen. There’s always something they can do. When my daughter was a year and a half, she loved putting sticks into chocolate-banana fruit pops.
3. Keep it clean
Cleanup is part of food preparation, so once young people are old enough, expect them to be part of that too. Putting things away as you use them will keep your kitchen halfway clean. But, let’s face it: It’s a messy business. Try and be relaxed about it, too.
4. Be adventurous
There are plenty of kid-friendly vegan meals, including pizza and mac ‘n’ cheese. These are a good place to start, but don’t stop there. Get into salads, soups, risottos, and everything else. It’ll stimulate interest in new flavors and may ignite interest in foods they would otherwise avoid.
5. Let go of the reins
Food is front and center of most family festivities. But when it comes to entertaining, it’s easy to take control of everything. At the next family celebration consider letting younger family members take on a role, maybe even taking charge of one of the dishes. You might be surprised at what treasured family rituals evolve.
Young (and old) will delight in these skewered frozen grapes dipped in chocolate sauce. The chocolate sauce uses everyday ingredients and comes together almost instantly. Be sure to allow a few hours (or overnight) for the grapes to freeze. Pro tip: Different colored grapes offer endless possibilities for making patterns.
These simple cookies have everything you want in a kid-friendly cookie project: They’re easy to make; they’re healthy; and kids love eating them! Pro tip: When scooping the dough onto the baking tray, use an ice cream scoop; it keeps the cookies uniform, and kids go mad for the scoop!
Ready in 20 minutes and with only six ingredients, these light and tasty biscuits are ideal for beginner bakers. The recipe calls for whole-wheat flour but they also work with gluten-free flour mixes. Serve plain or with jam or nut butter, or as a base to a berry shortcake.
These chocolatey pancakes are surprisingly healthy. They get their lightness from the usual suspect—baking powder—but also from ground flaxseed. It’s fun to watch the batter rise to almost double it’s size, and you only have to wait 10 minutes. Add chocolate chips if you’re feeling decadent or leave them out; they’re plenty chocolatey without them.
Hearty and nutritious, this 10-minute chocolate hummus is surprisingly good. This simple recipe is ideal for short attention spans. Once the chickpeas are blended you’ll need “help” stirring in the cocoa powder, maple syrup, and peanut butter. Serve with your favorite fruits and/or veggie sticks. Your helpers will also enjoy preparing the fruits and veggies. Get them to pull the tops off strawberries, slice soft fruits, and cut veggie sticks (if age-appropriate). Shares a reviewer: “I was blown away by how good this is. I like hummus but this takes the cake.”
Pizza is the ultimate kid-friendly food, making this an ideal recipe to try with young cooks. Pita rounds are topped with sautéed veggies and a cheesy spread made from white beans, nutritional yeast, and garlic. If you don’t have pita pockets, try this Potato Onion Pizza, which uses Homemade Oil-Free Pizza Dough.
For a culinary kid-friendly adventure, check out this decorative focaccia. You’ll need a sourdough starter, which is a fun exercise in itself, then comes the delight of making the dough and decorating with various herbs and veggies. Use Chef Darshana’s design as a springboard for your own creations!
Cashews and potato give this scrumptious mac ‘n’ cheese its creamy factor. If your family is new to whole-food, plant-based cooking, this is a great way to show that you don’t have to miss out on your favorite dishes.
Ready to get started? Check out Forks Meal Planner, FOK’s easy weekly meal-planning tool to keep you on a healthy plant-based path. To learn more about a whole-food, plant-based diet, visit our Plant-Based Primer.
This article was originally published on April 16, 2020, and has been updated.
about the author
Lisa Esile, MS
Lisa Esile is an author, illustrator, blogger, vegetable gardener, and whole-food enthusiast with a special fondness for potatoes. She has a master’s degree in human nutrition and is passionate about showing people how to live happier, healthier lives. She is the author of Reach Your Big Calm and the co-author of Whose Mind Is It Anyway? Find her on Facebook.