If you’re looking for a way to occupy your kids — and yourselves — during this unexpected stay-at-home period, consider cooking with them.
“There’s only so much time you can spend trying to teach your kids math,” said Jack Bishop, chief creative officer for America’s Test Kitchen. “You’re going to need some other activities, and cooking is a great way for kids and parents to stay engaged — and make something that you can then eat.”
And you can start first thing in the morning, with breakfast.
“We’re not rushing out to catch the bus to get to school, so let’s maybe slow down a little bit in the morning before we get going,” he said. (You can find) “great overnight waffle recipes, egg recipes, muffin recipes. Yogurt and berry parfaits. Just start the day out making something together. If you’re working from home and your kids have got some school assignments, do something like that to get the day going.”
Emily Brubaker, chef and sales representative for MGP Specialty Foods/Cured & Whey at 6265 S. Valley View Blvd. frequently cooks with her children, who are 6 and 4½.
“We find a recipe that they might enjoy, like a pasta dish,” she said. “I have them measure everything out.” She explains how certain ingredients interact, like leavening in baked goods.
“They help a lot,” she said. “They do knife work.”
Brian Howard, chef/owner of Sparrow & Wolf at 4480 Spring Mountain Road, cooks with his son, Brix, who will be 5 in June, and said Brix knows his way around a knife, too.
“I try to teach him basic knife skills, to respect the knife,” Howard said. “I do give him a real knife.”
Brubaker said she wants her kids to really understand their food.
“What I find with all ages of kids is to taste as you go every ingredient, as long as it’s safe,” an exception being raw poultry, for example. “Even flour — how it feels, what it tastes like. And baking powder and salt. When it’s done, they kind of have an idea of how it’s evolved. And the flavor changes so much.”
Bishop heartily recommends baking with them.
“Kids love to see the transformation of flour and water and yeast into bread,” he said. “It’s also mostly hands-on work; not a lot of knife work.”
“Bread is fun to bake with kids because of the action of kneading,” Brubaker said. “My kids love to bake bread because it’s almost like Play-Doh to them. It’s fun for them. And they sit in front of the oven when they’re baking things, watching them rise, watching them brown. I’ve got many pictures of them.”
Bryce Krausman, co-owner of DW Bistro at The Gramercy, said he started cooking with kids when he was a young babysitter.
“I kind of played restaurant with them,” he said. “You’d say it was veal Parmesan, but it was mac and cheese.
“Make it fun for them. Make a soup using all the canned vegetables you bought. Get them interacting; make some dough. Get them used to what it’s like to cook. Let them get their hands in it.”
Brubaker wants kids to know the source of their food. Instead of buying frozen chicken nuggets, she’ll show them a chicken, then how it’s cut up, how it’s prepared.
“This way they know what they’re eating,” she said. “That, I think, is lost. Kids don’t know where food comes from; they don’t even know what it is.”
She and Krausman suggest letting them tend plants so they can better understand the origins of food.
“We grew tomatoes and my daughter was blown away by what they were,” Brubaker said of her younger child. “She ate every tomato before they even ripened because she thought it was so cool.”
Krausman suggested getting their hands dirty.
“This is the time to plant; it’s the first of the season,” he said. “Plant some rosemary. If you want to get more aggressive, plant some tomatoes and peppers.”
For parents who don’t know how to cook and even those who do, Brubaker highly recommends the Raddish service for kids 4 to 14, which is available monthly or in subscriptions of six to 12 months, ranging from $20 to $24 per month. Each month they get three laminated recipe guides, three culinary skill cards, a kitchen project, kid-friendly tool and an apron, with six- and 12-month subscriptions. (Go to raddishkids.com.)
“My mom bought those for my kids and they think it’s super-duper fun,” she said.
Another source is americastestkitchen.com/kids, which has temporarily taken down its paywall.
Remember they — and you — don’t have to be limited to mac and cheese. Howard said his son recently cut up a lamb rack, learned how to make a yogurt marinade and marinated the lamb.
“Tonight he’ll get to grill over the wood fire and make beans,” he said. “He learned how to soak the beans; tonight he’ll learn how to process those beans.”
“I was so surprised, last night he ate fresh horseradish for the first time,” said Howard, who frequently makes Instagram cooking videos with Brix. “He really liked it.”
The point is to do it together.
“It’s one of those things that I think is lost,” Brubaker said. “It’s important to show kids, when we’re at home with them.”
“They’ll grow from this and they’ll learn from it,” Krausman said. “Kids will look back at this time in their lives and say, ‘I watched my parents do this when things were kind of tough.’ Talk about your fears and things together. And then make that time when you’re together just meal time.”
Easy whole-wheat sandwich bread
Vegetable oil spray
1½ cups (8¼ ounces) whole-wheat flour
1 cup (5½ ounces) bread flour
2¼ teasoons instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1¼ cups plus 2 tablespoons (11 ounces) warm water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon honey
1 large egg, cracked into bowl and lightly beaten with fork
Spray inside bottom and sides of 8½-by-4½-inch metal loaf pan with vegetable oil spray.
In bowl of stand mixer, whisk together whole-wheat flour, bread flour, yeast and salt. Lock bowl in place and attach paddle to stand mixer. In 4-cup liquid measuring cup, whisk warm water, melted butter and honey until honey has dissolved.
Start mixer on low speed. Slowly pour water mixture into flour mixture and mix until batter comes together, about 1 minute. Increase speed to medium and knead dough for 5 minutes. (Dough will look smooth and wet, almost like cake batter.) Stop mixer.
Spray rubber spatula with vegetable oil spray. Use greased spatula to transfer batter to greased loaf pan. Use spatula to push dough into corners of loaf pan and spread into even layer. Spray top of dough lightly with vegetable oil spray. Let dough rise, uncovered, until dough is about ½ inch above top edge of loaf pan, 30 minutes to 1 hour.
While dough rises, adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Just before baking, use pastry brush to gently paint top of dough with beaten egg.
Place loaf pan in oven. Bake until bread is deep golden brown, 40 to 45 minutes.
Use oven mitts to remove loaf pan from oven (ask an adult for help). Place loaf pan on cooling rack and let bread cool in pan for 15 minutes.
Carefully run butter knife around edges of bread to loosen from loaf pan (ask an adult for help — pan will be hot). Use oven mitts to carefully turn loaf pan on its side and remove bread from pan. Let bread cool completely on cooling rack, about 3 hours. Transfer bread to cutting board, slice (ask an adult for help), and serve.
Makes 1 loaf.
— Recipe from America’s Test Kitchen