Kid's cooking ideas that aren't dessert?
September 23, 2022 6:24 AM   Subscribe

Our daycare likes to have the kids help out with baking periodically, but it's getting to be too many desserts. What else can the kids help bake or cook?

Kids are age 2.5 to 5. We're in the US. No allergy concerns.

I think the reason they make so many desserts is that it's easy to have kids just dump in some water or milk and stir a little, so the default is cookie or muffin mix or maybe banana bread. Their daycare provider likes to bake on cold or rainy days, and fall has just started, so baking will probably be increasing.

What are some less sugary treats they can make? What are some kid-friendly recipes that could be done at a daycare? What are some things that are fun for kids to help cook?

There should be a minimum of cutting. It's ok, possibly even more fun, if the kids get a little messy when they're involved in the cooking.

Any ideas?
posted by msbrauer to Food & Drink (35 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
My kids preschool does oatmeal, soup, and bread and alternates days. They cook 5 days a week. The kids participate in the cutting, though at that age its more the soft fruits like banana, although some of the stronger ones get to help with the harder veggies.
posted by AlexiaSky at 6:30 AM on September 23

They do scones with jam or butter, and quick breads, they do oatmeal with different fruits, and different types of vegetable soups, sometimes with beans, sometimes not.
posted by AlexiaSky at 6:33 AM on September 23

Can you get biscuit mixes?

Would they possibly be ready for pizza dough?

Could you make up your own mix for things like cornbread without sugar by measuring and combining the dry ingredients in advance? They could add oil and milk, and stir.

Could you do anything with frozen pastry shells and a can of stew or canned unsweetened pumpkin?

What about pre-made pizza dough?
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:34 AM on September 23 [3 favorites]

Pizza! English muffin pizzas were one of the first things I learned to bake thanks to the Klutz cookbook I had.

Everyone can help make a simple pizza sauce. The daycare provider can cut toppings while the kids spoon sauce and sprinkle cheese on their pizzas. Everyone can choose different toppings.

For healthier pizzas: use whole grain muffins and stick to veggie toppings. Provide alternative cheeses if some kids don't do dairy.
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 6:40 AM on September 23 [4 favorites]

Baked egg bites?
Crack 12 eggs, add some milk, salt and pepper, beat to break the yolks.
Pour in some vegetables (frozen peas, baby spinach, cherry tomatoes, green onions, etc).
Pour into a well-sprayed muffin pan
Top with cheese and cracker crumbs

You can also make them by cracking one egg into each muffin compartment, and the child can use a fork to break the yolk and then sprinkle in their own toppings.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 6:41 AM on September 23 [6 favorites]

Quesadillas (plain, chicken, or beans), overnight oats (or cooked oatmeal), pizza bagels, spread cream cheese on bagels, make butter from cream by shaking it in a jar, grilled cheese, chicken salad, tuna salad, egg salad (cutting can be done by kids with a plastic knife), hummus, yogurt parfaits, smoothies (try warm smoothies with oatmeal), grilled pb&j, pasta salads.
posted by at 6:47 AM on September 23 [1 favorite]

When I was a kid we used to have "pizza burgers" as a regular lunch. The kids could take a burger bun and spread tomato paste on each half (or staff could help), then sprinkle some grated cheese on that. Next put five or six pepperoni slices on it. Shake some oregano on top. Bake until the cheese is melted. Loved it as a kid.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:49 AM on September 23 [1 favorite]

For baking and treats, use white whole wheat flour and cut the sugar by a third. Add pumpkin puree and cinnamon for hidden veggies, antioxidants. Bake with grated zucchini, carrots, cauliflower.
posted by at 6:50 AM on September 23

Bread in a bag!
posted by castlebravo at 6:54 AM on September 23 [1 favorite]

One of my kids made lemonade at a cooking party once and talked about it for months.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:55 AM on September 23 [2 favorites]

apple(peach) crisp is sweet, but also pretty healthy. I use a lot of apples, and only sweeten the topping, it's plenty sweet, but not too much.

bread. Make dough at the end of 1 day, let it rise overnight in a cool area. Add fruit or cheese, or herbs/spices, etc., make rolls or loaves. Or use the morning dough for pizza.

scrambled, soft- or hard-boiled eggs. easy, but a good skill to learn. Even making toast is a little skill kids can do.
posted by theora55 at 6:57 AM on September 23 [1 favorite]

There are lots of recipes online for mashed bean salads. Ingredients are very adjustable, and it can be spread on toast. I made this one, but there are simpler recipes too.

I made pear bunny salads like these as a child.
posted by FencingGal at 7:02 AM on September 23

How about hors d'oeuvres? Caprese skewers, potato skins, Pillsbury has a million things you can make with canned biscuit or crescent roll dough, deviled eggs, crash hot potatoes (tip: microwave in advance, let cool for kids to smash - use a cup or mug to flatten), sausage rolls, bruschetta.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:05 AM on September 23

Also, do a Google image search on "fruit salad rocket ships" for ideas.
posted by FencingGal at 7:17 AM on September 23

various dishes with pasta. Mac and cheese to pasta salad.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:23 AM on September 23

Fruit salad on wooden skewers with grapes, berries, banana slices cut by kids, pre-cut apples, etc.

Individual quiches in mini pie crusts- Pillsbury makes them, probably others.

Peanut butter sandwiches.
posted by mareli at 7:28 AM on September 23

The original, classic, O.G. Irish soda bread is easy enough - but I'm talking the really basic O.G. kind, where the only ingredients are flour, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk. You mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl, stir in all the buttermilk and mix, and then dump it out onto a baking sheet in a big lump. You do need to cut an "X" in the top, but the teacher can do that quick enough. Then you bake and you're done.

But an even easier idea for the dough after you've stirred it up - Irish food writer Darina Allen also does something she calls "West Cork Foccacia", where you take that same dough and instead of making a bread loaf, you pat it flat into the baking sheet, and then sprinkle grated cheddar cheese on it and bake that. I will try to remember to get the exact recipe when I get home from work, because that could be ideal.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:32 AM on September 23

Wonton wrapper ravioli (just layer two sheets together with some filling in the middle) filled with a cheese and herb mixture, boiled and served with marinara also made by the kids. Youngest kids stir, middle kids make filling, oldest or most dexterous portion and seal the ravioli, teacher does the boiling. Wonton wrappers are fresh pasta so they only need like two minutes to cook.

Whole roasted baby potatoes with different dipping sauces. Kids can wash, toss in oil, and season the potatoes, then concoct sauces out of different condiments and ingredients. Flavored mayos and honey mustard and fry sauce, that kind of thing.

Onigiri are messy and fun to make with little hands. You can flavor the rice directly or put fillings in the middle, use plastic wrap and a teacup for kids who don't get the hang of it or don't want messy hands, or even find adorable shaped rice ball molds. Fill with tuna, pb&j (trust me), cream cheese and lox, avocado, shelled edamame, you name it. Wrap with nori or just eat whatever mess is made.
posted by Mizu at 7:33 AM on September 23 [1 favorite]

As a sideways answer, my kids are about this age and they love using this type of chopper for fruit. They're not sharp so we do soft things like strawberries or bananas.
posted by brilliantine at 7:48 AM on September 23

They make plastic kid knives and plastic pizza cutters.

Might be a good thing to donate to the school!
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:50 AM on September 23 [1 favorite]

what about lunch wraps? They don't require baking but you can spread something on a tortilla, fill with fillings, roll up and cut into rounds. Possibilities are endless!
posted by dpx.mfx at 8:02 AM on September 23

I overheard a group of daycare kids today planning to make their own (nut-free of course) granola.

No-knead foccacia is amaaaazing and will also give you artistic possibilities.

"Savory quick breads" is a great search. If the daycare would get into yeasted bread, milk bread makes an amazing base for all kinds of stuffed/rolled up rolls, but I can see that might not work out.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:07 AM on September 23

I have a toddler and we do a lot of cooking together and it is very, very rarely dessert. The key is that some mis en place is needed - the adult uses their skills to prepare the activity and then the kids can put it together using their skills. So, we often make things that require cutting and other such things but I just do that ahead of time. I know it's harder for a daycare provider (maybe the parents could prep some things) but doesn't she have to measure anyways?

Salad - adult cuts, kids dump together and stir
Salad dressing - adult measures, kids shake
Eggs - adult cracks eggs into a cup, shreds cheese, kids do the scrambling
Quiche - is just pie crust with scrambled eggs in it

If it's too much work to do a little advance prep, savory quick breads are also a thing. Not everything has to have sugar.
posted by epanalepsis at 8:45 AM on September 23

Strata is a good one with kids- it’s mostly cracking eggs and mixing in milk and then layering items in the pan which kids really enjoy.
posted by raccoon409 at 8:47 AM on September 23

One more vote for pizza. When my kids were that age, we made pizza all the time. It was messy, it was fun, it was easy. I made the dough and set out bowls of pizza sauce, cheese and toppings. They rolled the dough and cut out little shapes with cookie cutters and decorated them. Baking time in a very hot oven is short enough for toddler-attention span.
For the youngest one it became a weekly event with their two best friends. The older one did it less frequently, but they would have a pizza stand on market days, like kids have a lemonade stand, and they earned a good income that way.
posted by mumimor at 8:47 AM on September 23

Also, corn and bean salad with lime juice, all the grown-up has to do is open some cans and cut open a lime. Kids dump, mix, and squeeze.
posted by epanalepsis at 8:47 AM on September 23 [2 favorites]

Things my kids enjoyed helping with:
- guacamole, an adult will need to slice open the avocado, but the kids can scoop, mash, squeeze lemons, etc.
- celery with any number of toppings, peanut butter or cream cheese or ricotta cheese with raisins, etc. on top
- pita chips: adults or older kids can slice in triangles, younger ones coat with olive oil, sprinkle salt etc.
posted by snowymorninblues at 8:51 AM on September 23

Cheesy biscuits are great for savory baking.
Cut puff pastry into squares, top with literally anything you like, then fold into triangles and bake.
Lasagna with no-bake noodles - make an assembly line with the ingredients
posted by gnutron at 9:37 AM on September 23

Pizza (anything from “proper yeast dough” to “blop some stuff on mini bagels”), quiche, (US) biscuits, one of those “dump 5 cans of stuff in a crock pot” soup/queso recipes, cutting veggies and/or fruit for a salad (using butter knives and softer veggies), baked potatoes with fixings, yeast bread, cornbread.
posted by tchemgrrl at 12:17 PM on September 23

Kids mix oil and seasonings onto cooked garbanzos (very messy !), bake until crunchy snacks? Also good additions to salad.
posted by clew at 2:33 PM on September 23

I’ve made all sorts of things with toddlers scrambled eggs, they can crack the egg, mix it, put in topping if they want to turn it into omelette, meatballs, pizza, sausage rolls…
posted by Jubey at 4:37 PM on September 23

My daughter (age five) liiiiived to crack eggs. We make frittatas and crustless quiches and the like once a week or so, and I set the dish on a low part of the counter and just let her crack away. Then she can MIX.

Any sort of casserole that's basically "add ingredients to dish, mix, cook" also works really well for small kids, dumping and mixing is the fun bit.

Miss Potato also likes doing mini pizzas, we buy premade frozen bases and so all she needs to do is smear sauce and add cheese.
posted by Jilder at 8:05 PM on September 23

Homemade butter is fun to make with a group of kids. Pretzels would be fun too, adults would obviously have to do the boiling and baking.
posted by Lay Off The Books at 10:54 PM on September 23

The older kids could make soft pretzels. Making the shapes is the activity there.
posted by slidell at 5:18 AM on September 24

Savory muffins! Take the base recipe from Cook’s Illustrated book The Best Recipe and follow their suggestions. You fill the muffin cup partially with batter, add a teaspoon of filling and then top with more plain batter.

A GREAT cooperative activity and hilarious to see how much filling you get because kids are….learning.
posted by bilabial at 8:19 AM on September 24

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