Okay, so my 3 year old wants to make dinner!?!?
September 26, 2018 12:35 PM   Subscribe

I’ve been taking the kids (2 and 3) to the shop and then cooking dinner together. My 3 year old LOVES this. Our oven is broken and I’ve done mashed potatoes, quesadillas and pumpkin soup. What else is there? Oh! And books related to a dish would also be great.

He can cut with assistance and likes stirring. I can do some prep work in advance to make it easier. I’ll probably do pizza when we fix our oven, he likes hearty fare but we can still make salads or other veggie dishes. Any ideas? Books that go together with dishes are also great- for example we just read a book about making pumpkin soup before we ate our pumpkin soup.
posted by catspajammies to Food & Drink (29 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
So is the whole oven broken (including the range on top)? Because there’d be a ton of stuff to do with a pan or two and some heat — stir fry, chili, stew (lots of chopping and stirring with these), for example.
posted by curious nu at 12:44 PM on September 26, 2018

The range is fine! We’ve been making soup, for example, but pizzas or baking aren’t on the cards at the moment.
posted by catspajammies at 12:51 PM on September 26, 2018

I can't say much about books, not having looked at kids books in decades but I remember many happy times cooking when I was small. I loved having many things that combined in phases, especially when it used a lot of different bowls and tools to get to the end result (I'm sure mom appreciated the dishes).

Raviolis or other filled bites: depending on his dexterity it might be too frustrating trying to fill them without tearing but there are lots of thing to chop and stir what with the filling, and dough, and sauce.

Tacos, again lots of bits to chop and then getting to build your own taco on your plate from all the bits you chopped.

If he like getting his hands squishy, something like dumplings or pasta from scratch are really fun.
posted by buildmyworld at 12:51 PM on September 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Pancakes in a squeeze bottle
posted by jbenben at 12:56 PM on September 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

I don't have any specific book recommendations, but wanted to make sure you had heard of these "lettuce knives." We have similarly little ones and let them practice cutting with these (as well as supervised paring knife use). We let our kids help with everything we cook (save meat/fish - they'll still stick fingers in their eyes/mouth!) and we have had a few burns (minimal) and they have learned from them. Have fun!
posted by anya32 at 1:06 PM on September 26, 2018 [6 favorites]

What about stir fry? Lots of chopping/ cutting, lots of veggies to choose from, and you can do it in a frying pan if you don’t have a wok.
Or, what about breakfast for dinner? Pancakes are fun and need lots of stirring, you can add blueberries or even choc chips, and you can read “If You Give A Pig A Pancake” first!
posted by bookmammal at 1:14 PM on September 26, 2018

I made a bunch of turkey meatballs last weekend (and froze them in dinner-sized portions). As my husband and I were rolling all those GD things I kept thinking "this is what kids would be good for ".

He can mush up the mixture with his hands and roll them up just like playing with play dough. You can be in charge of browning them in the skillet.

Memail me if you specifically want my Dad's recipe :)
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 1:16 PM on September 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Grace Lin’s Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same has a dumpling story that might be fun.
posted by vunder at 1:23 PM on September 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Savory pancakes work well - I made some kohlrabi and zucchini ones earlier this year when our CSA threw me for a loop. Cracking eggs and chopping veggies are fun, and it makes for an easy-to-eat dinner you can load lots of veggies into. My 3yo loves making pancake shapes for breakfast pancakes so I think savory dinner pancakes can be similarly entertaining.
posted by olinerd at 1:27 PM on September 26, 2018

Time for make-your-own-sandwich night! Tuna salad, sliced boiled eggs, PBJ, meats and cheeses, hummus and other spreads, different breads, crackers, and celery sticks, all on the table and everyone gets to make their own. Goes great with Me First by Helen Lester.
posted by headnsouth at 1:31 PM on September 26, 2018

There is a book called Kindergarten Cooks / Kids In The Kitchen by Nellie Edge that your family might enjoy. Might be able to find it at your local library, though it seems difficult to find these days. It uses simple images to help kids follow recipes. There's a free sample with four recipes available, too. My first experience with it was as a preschooler ~1980, and I found a copy to use with my kids years ago. We still use some of the recipes, though my kids are almost all adults!
posted by stormyteal at 1:44 PM on September 26, 2018

Teach him to brown meat and then use that to top salads or to add to pasta sauce. Pasta/noodles/ramen would be a good addition to the soups!
posted by soelo at 2:02 PM on September 26, 2018

If he likes stirring, you must teach him a risotto. A good risotto is about adding the stock slowly and stir stir stir the rice. It's a one frying pan recipe. Only chopping is an onion and then any other vegetable you want through it (I'm lazy so just add frozen peas).
posted by DoveBrown at 2:11 PM on September 26, 2018

If you're comfortable with him using a food processor, he could make energy balls for dessert. There are many variations upon them but essentially they consist of pulverizing nuts and seeds with dried fruit (like dates and prunes), rolling teaspoon amounts into balls, and putting them on a plate. You can add some citrus zest for extra flavour, or roll them coconut.

For the meal itself, he could whisk up creamy garlic tahini salad dressing for torn kale, or he could contribute a fresh batch of hummus. and an assortment of veggie sticks, pita triangles and/or crackers.
posted by mayurasana at 2:13 PM on September 26, 2018

Pasta sauce/chili are good, and then you can do rotating leftovers for chili dogs, nachos, frito pie.

Pan-fried tofu is fun, too. Pan-fried gyoza (from frozen, probably) or similar dumplings.


You might consider, with little ones interested in cooking, making the small investment in a toaster oven? Good to have when your oven breaks, but also if you stick with toaster oven cooking you maybe don't get them *too* enthusiastic about trying to wrangle the big oven door or controls. Also a toaster oven could be put on the dining table or a cart or island.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:14 PM on September 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

(btw here's an Okonomiyaki for toddlers. In any okonomiyaki recipe, just skip or wing any ingredient you can't get, like dashi or dried shrimp or bonito flakes. Approximation is fine.)
posted by Lyn Never at 2:16 PM on September 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Even though your oven is busted right now, you could still have them do some light psuedo-baking with stuff like brownie in a mug or whatever. There are lots "baked goods" variants done in a little mug. Anytime I see those recipes or pictures pop up, it just seems like something a kid would really get a kick out of.

"If he likes stirring, you must teach him a risotto."

That's quite a bold suggestion, just going off of every cooking competition show I have ever seen, Risotto is the hardest possible food to make properly on Earth.
posted by GoblinHoney at 2:58 PM on September 26, 2018

Tacos! by Lotta Nieminen looks like a really fun cook book geared toward little kids that I would love to use with a kid.
posted by kendrak at 3:10 PM on September 26, 2018

It's great to get kids involved in cooking, my little boy has enjoyed making pizzas since he was three. You prep all the ingredients and he can get cracking with dressing the pizza with the sauce and cheese and veg. It's all hand work and they enjoy doing it.
posted by gypsyfighter at 3:14 PM on September 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Stone Soup is a folk tale. This book Has a recipe in the back and I made it with a group of 3 year olds.
posted by catrae at 3:19 PM on September 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

tacos and dragons love tacos!
posted by noloveforned at 3:33 PM on September 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

My 3yo loves using a meat tenderiser to bash olives so he can pull the pits out. He calls the tenderiser the cooking hammer.

He’s also really good at stirring scrambled eggs.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 3:42 PM on September 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

I used Mollie Katzen's kids' cookbooks with an after school program with some quite small/low literacy kids. The books' picture based recipes worked well.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:51 PM on September 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Mac and cheese.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:23 PM on September 26, 2018

My wife (and now my grown-up daughter) every Thanksgiving make sausage stuffing that everybody raves about. It seems every year someone asks for the recipe which is as simple as a box of stuffing mix, 2 cups of water, 2 bouillon cubes and cut-up cooked/browned sausages.
posted by forthright at 6:55 PM on September 26, 2018

My 2-year-old loves to scramble eggs and make salads. (We do chicken caesar a lot as a dinner salad.)

Do you have a crock pot? My kids make a lot of crockpot meals. I have to help with some of the cutting (esp. carrots), but they can do some of it.

Pasta primavera is another nice stovetop one ... I make it with squash and zucchini and mushrooms, all of which they can safely chop with one of the "lettuce knives" linked above. (Saute the veggies ever so slightly, add sauce ingredients to the saute pan, dump both over the cooked pasta in serving bowl, memail me if you want my specific recipe.)

Even very small people can make sandwiches! We'll get out the bread and cold cuts and cheese and assign a child to make everyone a sandwich for dinner. (We let them use the squeezy mustard, with the understanding we'll probably get some bites that are unappealingly mustardy!)

Not a book, but ChopChop is a wonderful magazine (with no advertising!) with child-friendly recipes, centered around helping kids become competent in the kitchen to make their own healthy food, it's great!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:54 PM on September 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

The book Bee Bim Bop is fun & has a recipe to make it
posted by iiniisfree at 5:40 AM on September 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Strega Nona is a really good book to read if you are making spaghetti.

My niece and nephews loved cracking eggs around that age so scrambled eggs might be fun!
posted by elvissa at 6:49 AM on September 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Gnocchi. They float when they are cooked which is like a magic trick.
posted by kjs4 at 6:32 PM on September 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

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