4 Food Moves To Do With Your Kids

Dr. Delaney Ruston – I have asked many young people, “What’s one thing you love to cook? Last month, I sat on a plane next to an older teen. We began talking when he finished his movie, and he told me he liked Pollo Con Carne. I could see the pride in his eyes.

Often though, kids look a bit puzzled when I ask, and they answer in a questioning voice, “Mac and cheese. Does that count? ” And I will continue, “Wait, do you not have another dish you love to cook?” If they say no, I ask about the food they might like to eat. I get them talking about dishes they love that other people have cooked for them.

From there, I tell them how they can easily learn to make any of these.  I want them to think about how great it can be to have at least one, if not a few, “signature dishes” — things to know how to whip up and share with others. 

Cooking creates self-confidence, self-efficacy, and is a great offline activity. In a past Screenagers’ Tech Talk Tuesday blog about creating new tech habits, I wrote about matching offline activity time for an equal amount of time engaged in online entertainment, for which cooking is perfect.

Today, I have some food moves to help inspire your child to up their cooking game — whether they are naysayers or Chez Panisse wannabes, I think they’ll like these.

1. Go for the challenge

Start by talking about something that seems hard to make. Perhaps a dish they love to eat but never fathomed trying to make, i.e., ravioli, ramen soup, etc.) and shoot to make that. 

One dish my kids learned to master was homemade Vietnamese spring rolls. The recipe is just the right amount of manageability, with the rice paper a bit tricky to master. 

2. It’s all about experimenting

A low-key, who-really-cares-how-it-comes-out attitude about trying new dishes can be just what a young person needs to delve into experimenting with food.

We have always had Cooks Illustrated magazines around because seeing how these test kitchens try and fail and try again is what I wanted my kids to appreciate. 

When things go awry, the family memories are priceless, like last holiday season when my son wanted to make a Szechuan dish that called for Szechuan peppers. He spent so much time preparing the dish, and then, when we took a bite, our mouths became so numb and in pain that we only could manage a few bites. Good memory? Absolutely. Does he feel a bit more confident about his cooking? In a strange way, I bet yes. 

Experimenting can be priceless but also pricey. One time I proposed to Tessa that she make a cake that required melting sugar and then beating it to make the frosting. We didn’t realize the sugar would harden so much that it would bust the motor on the mixer. Oh well, that is what can happen with experimentation.

3. A new food gadget can work wonders

Whether it’s a panini press, air fryer, pasta maker, or something else, bringing in a new food gadget every couple of months can get your kids excited about food prep. You might trade kitchen appliances with friends to keep kitchen experimentation affordable. You can email friends to see if anyone has a fondue maker, a crockpot, or even a Raclette Grill.  We have one and love inviting friends over in the winter to have an easy meal.

Another fun gadget is a vegetable spiralizer which lets you make pasta out of zucchini, which can make a beautiful side dish. 

4. Bring home a new ingredient

How about grabbing a small bottle of saffron or another spice your kid hasn’t used before? Over the holidays, I pulled out a tiny jar of Trader Jo’s saffron to inspire Tessa to make a dish with it. She made this recipe, and it was so good I have made it since.  If you use saffron, here is a  short video about the story of it to share with your child. 

How about bringing home a tub of miso? Your child may be motivated to make a miso-based ramen soup. We use a lot of miso in our home.

How about dumpling wrappers which are easily found in supermarkets all over?  Then have things for a simple filling — such as tofu and carrots that your kids can chop and use as filling. Adding a bit of sesame oil to any mixture is the magic touch.

There is a multitude of ingredients that can help get creative cooking ideas flowing. 

Ultimately, all this experimenting will likely land your child with one or two dishes they feel proud about and can make for others. 

Questions to get the conversation started:

  1. What are some of your favorite meals? What do you love about them?
  2. Has someone ever cooked you something that impressed you? 
  3. What are some recipes you feel comfortable with in the kitchen?