An occasional series about my quest to teach my 7-year-old daughter to cook. I’ll be sharing helpful tips and simple kid-friendly recipes. First up, kid-made mac and cheese.
Cooking with kids is something other parents seem to accomplish effortlessly. I have to assume that, unlike me, these noble parents aren’t control freaks. But — slowly — over the years, it’s dawned on me that if I don’t take the time to teach my 7-year-old daughter to cook, clean, or fix things, she’ll never know how. And then I’ll be condemned to a life of doing everything myself by choice.
With all this in mind, we’ve been tackling the whole cooking thing lately. Scrambled eggs were the starting point, mostly because that’s what my much older brother first taught me to cook. We’ve moved on to spooning this or that, stirring things, or dumping an occasional pre-measured ingredient, but that’s about it.
I recently decided that it was time to do this for real. So, we made mac and cheese. Rather, she made mac and cheese. Here’s how our kid-made recipe went down: She grated most of the cheese (under close supervision — the finer points of how to hold a grater and how not to grate your fingers apparently need to be taught). She cut the butter and scooped the flour, and then whisked the mixture while I drizzled in the milk. She added the cheese and stirred it into the roux, but I stepped in to pour the hot cheese mixture over the pasta. She did stir it in, though. I slid the mac and cheese into the oven and then we monitored its progress together. After a solid cool down period, the mac was cool enough for her to spoon onto plates herself.
The next day, over plates of leftover mac (plus two kinds of vegetable, if you must know), I asked my daughter what she thought of cooking for herself. She said it felt good and made her feel a little bit grown up. I’m thankful for that because a little grown up is about all I can handle right now.
Basic tips for cooking with kids:
1. Safety is a major concern. Remember that everything from the right way to grate cheese, hold a whisk, and a use a knife could be new concepts, so be ready to explain each step in a way that’s helpful and doesn’t give away your inner terror.
2. Accept that your kitchen is going to get messy. For particularly messy tasks, consider setting kids up on a rimmed tray or baking sheet to contain the mess.
3. Pick a recipe that’s forgiving. Mac and cheese was perfect as it is pretty much delicious no matter what.
4. Let your child make some choices. These could be what spices to add or which cheeses to use. Decision making fosters independence and is all part of the learning game.
5. Set up your ingredients beforehand. Since you’ll need to monitor things closely, measure and set out ingredients before the cooking gets underway.
If you’re ready to get tackle your own kid-made food, here’s our favorite creamy mac and cheese recipe.
Simple Baked Mac and Cheese
Makes: 8 – 10 servings
Prep time: 7 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour
1 pound spiral pasta, cooked to al dente in salted water
3 heaping cups grated cheese; here we used 2 cups Gruyere and 1 cup Parmesan
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups room temperature milk
sea salt to taste
ground black pepper to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degree F. Butter a 9 x 13-inch baking dish and set aside. Measure the milk and set aside for it to come to room temperature.
2. Cook the pasta in salted water until al dente. Drain and set aside.
3. Grate the cheese.
4. In a heavy-bottomed sauce pan (preferably one that’s not prone to tipping), melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour. Mixture will bubble at first, then start to brown and thicken. Whisking constantly, drizzle in the milk a little bit at a time. It should take about 4 or 5 minutes total to add it all. The roux should be thick and creamy.
5. Next, add sea salt and black pepper to the roux, remove from heat, and add the cheese.
6. Spread pasta out in prepared baking dish and pour the cheese sauce over it.
7. Slide dish into the oven and bake for 45 – 55 minutes, or until the top has browned and the filling is bubbling. Cool and serve.More On