Now that school’s been out for several weeks, the initial excitement has worn off and you may find yourself searching for creative ways to keep the kids occupied. Why not let them try their hand in the kitchen? Cooking projects are a great way to bond with your little ones while letting them explore new flavors and discover new favorites. Here are some ideas to let your kids take the reins in your kitchen and get them away from that pesky TV screen. Read more
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When it comes to cooking with small kids underfoot, I’m always looking for dinner ideas with that magical combination of flexibility, simplicity, big flavors and tender meat. Our kids are 1, 3, 4 and 6, and the whole crew has varying amounts of teeth at any given time, so tender meat is a must. Plus, it’s delicious — no matter what age you are.
So I rely on two delicious marinades that I know by heart to put on anything from flank steak to chicken strips to roasted whole chickens. One is a tangy blend of lime and cumin; the other is lemon and garlic. Even though they’re both citrus-based, they’re full of totally different flavors. Our kids LOVE them, and, as a bonus, you can double any batch of marinade and throw a second dinner in the freezer while you’re making the first. The meat will just keep soaking up more flavor while it thaws later on.
With summer in full swing, and four kids under the age of 7, we’ve got friends of all ages coming and going all the time. To keep things simple but still plenty of fun, I have a roster of easy and (almost) universally liked snacks for kids. Here’s what we’re serving.
English Muffin Pizzas (pictured above): For more of a meal, these English muffin pizzas can be topped with your choice of fixings, like olives and broccoli.
If you’re a gardener, or you’ve been to the grocery store and seen it on sale, you know the zucchini has officially arrived. We have a ton of the stuff popping up in our small garden beds every day, which means we’re eating a ton of the stuff every day. These are my favorite kid-tested zucchini recipes, offering enough variety to keep everyone eating the good stuff all summer long.
Zucchini Ribbon Pasta: Long tendrils of zucchini combined with tender fettuccine noodles are the base of Ellie Krieger’s lightened-up Italian meal (pictured above). But it’s the garlic, Parmesan cheese and fresh basil on top that make it truly mouthwatering.
It’s hard to go through life without an unabashed obsession for tacos, am I right? It’s tacos, for crying out loud. Tiny carb canoes with seasoned meat, maybe a fruit here, a veggie there, a sprinkling of delicious cheese, and a burst of fresh lime juice or maybe even a delightful salsa or sauce. I mean, tacos.
I kept these particular tacos on the street side, with simple seasoned grass-fed beef (regular beef is fine!), fresh onion and cilantro, and a bit of crumbled queso fresco, but I added a creamy side with cubed avocado and mango. Mmmm mmm. What makes these most street-y, though, is the use of corn tortillas, especially when you lightly char each one over an open flame on your stovetop — oooooooWEEEE. They’re so amazing. So street-y. I like street-y. That came out wrong.
If your little ones aren’t yet into seasoned, street tacos, I pause toward the beginning of the recipe and slide a little of the beef into tortillas with melty cheddar cheese for some quick quesadillas. Boom. Errrrrone’s happy.
Get street-y! Err, you know what I mean.
One of my favorite summer dinners comes together in about five minutes. (Coincidence?) Pulling ingredients from the pantry, fridge and freezer, then loading them onto the cutting board is equal parts handy (chop those peppers right here, slice the cheese too) and festive — like a cheese tray with extensions. Set the whole thing in the middle of the table and let everyone dish up exactly what they like.
Mix and Match Any Combination:
A Little Something Salty (Served in a Bowl)
Olives, peanuts, pickles (dill or sweet), pistachios
I taught my daughter’s third-grade class how to make good guacamole. It was my second time working with classroom 3B, this time not in the art room but on a diminutive desk in the classroom itself. On this knee-high rectangle of beechwood-colored Formica with a scooped out slot for a pencil at the top, I was able to use skills gained long ago interning at a doll-size garde manger station, elbows pinned to my sides.
When kids came into their classroom, they found tortillas, knives and avocado halves on their tables, and the other ingredients were ready on mine. It smelled like onions and cilantro. Passing teachers poked their heads in to see why. I worked fast to outpace the kids’ hunger, questions and strong desire to get avocado goo on their sleeves. Eventually I guided my 19 cooks to a high-five-inducing guacamole (with a side of chips).
First I told them the safe and polite way to handle their plastic knives (by the handle, always cutting away from your body, the other hand’s fingers curled under, etc.). Then we cut up tortillas to make chips. They are studying fractions, so there was a lot of debate. Some tables chose eighths for more chips, some went with sixths for bigger chips, and others chose straight strips for the sake of innovation. We tossed them in a bowl with oil and salt, layered them on sheet pans and popped them into the oven down the hall in the art room. Then we moved on to the main attraction.
Eating outside is one of the joys of summer. For the kids it’s about fresh air and fun. For me it’s about not having to clean the floor. And cooking all the food outside? Even. Better. Here’s our foolproof family meal, made completely on the grill.
Three of our four small kids were born in Italy, where eating out is practically the national pastime. That meant toting our tots to a lot of restaurants. Here are the tricks we learned along the way — and still use for our group that now includes one baby, a toddler, a preschooler and even a kindergartener.
1. Take a “Fun Pack.” Our oldest daughter was a toddler when she started filling up a bag she called her “Fun Pack” for restaurants. Whatever she could fit in, went: toys, dolls, sunglasses. I also brought crayons and a coloring book, which weren’t automatically handed out in Rome. She may spend only a few minutes with each thing, but she’ll have enough stuff to explore during the meal to stay occupied.
2. Go early. This was a bit of a moot point in Europe, where dinner typically isn’t served until 8 p.m., but boy have we used it ever since we moved to the U.S. We are out the door by 4:30 p.m., trying to arrive at 5 p.m. or 5:30 p.m. The kids don’t get overly hungry, and the restaurant will likely be less busy.
3. Practice restaurant manners. For toddlers and preschoolers, role-playing ahead of time makes all the difference. (We did this before flying on planes too.) We physically sit at the table and explain what will happen at the restaurant. We tell them that a waiter will arrive to ask questions, there are menus, there is no getting up from the table unless you need to go potty — tell them whatever your family rules are. And we ask silly questions: “Any climbing under the table?” Which gives the kids a chance to yell, “No!” Yelling at home? Good. Yelling at the restaurant? Bad. Hence the dry run.
One Recipe, Two Meals: Pasta with Butter and Peas for the Kids, and a Veggie-Packed Primavera for Youby Bev Weidner in Family, Recipes, June 3rd, 2015
If you’re not a fan of pasta, there may be something wrong with you. Just kidding. You’re still a good person.
But really, how could you not like pasta? You know, don’t even tell me if you don’t. I don’t think my heart could take it. I feel like we’re in a good place in our relationship, and I can’t rightly handle any deal breakers. I have to wash my hair today; that’s already too much for me.
Anyway, what we have here is a ridiiiiiculous pasta primavera, but super-stripped down on the front end for your babes. I included some peas in the kid-friendly recipe. Ya know, color! And health or whatever.
The mature version is loaded with veggies, a bit of dry white wine, a little bit and a lot of butter, tons of good Parmesan and a heavy hand of fresh herbs. You may cry. Just keeping adding cheese at the end and I’m sure you will.
As a matter of fact, I’m tearing up right now.
I may need a moment. Or more pasta?