Cooking Essentials for Your Little Chef
My son, Jude, will be 4 years old in 2 weeks. He loves to cook! I vaguely remember you mentioning that your middle son, Ezra, had a favorite cookbook with a favorite “pink stuff” recipe or something? I love Pinterest as much as the next person, but I’d love to give him a book with good, simple recipes and great pictures.
Do you have any recommendations for a tried and true kids cookbook or good quality, but safe kitchen gear?
Thank you so much!
Cookbooks for Kids
Yes, yes, yes! The perfect first cookbook for preschoolers is Pretend Soup by Mollie Katzen (author of the essential Moosewood Cookbook for us grown-ups) and Ann L. Henderson. This one is beyond tried and true — every cooking/baking related activity at my kids’ preschools, camps, afterschool programs, etc. have been based around recipes from this book. Or from the second/follow-up cookbook called Salad People. Pretend Soup was my middle son’s personal favorite, but you really can’t go wrong with either title. Or just buy them both!
(And as kids get older and ready to take on more responsibility, they can move on to the third volume, Honest Pretzels. It’s technically recommended for kids 8 and up; we bought it for our guy when he was 7 because he was definitely ready to try his hand at more grown-up meal like recipes. He loves to help with regular meal prep, but there’s something extra fun about picking out a recipe himself and being “in charge” of dinner using a recipe he can really do independently, with supervision.)
Unlike other kids’ cookbooks that use photographs, the Katzen books are illustrated, and which makes them extra appealing to very young children: They’re more like a familiar picture book. Steps are broken down into rows of squares (almost a comic book-like format) and all the illustrations are colorful and fun. Recipes are all vegetarian and nut free (but not 100% vegan or gluten free), and are INCREDIBLY forgiving and dang near impossible to mess up. (This is important when you’re letting a preschooler handle the measuring cups and spoons — accuracy isn’t a huge issue here.) There are some treats and desserts but even these are mostly fruit- or yogurt-based and pretty healthy, unlike quite a lot of the other kids’ cookbooks out there that go heavy on the sweets and sugar. The books also divide the responsibilities up clearly and feature safety tips throughout so you can safely let your child do as much of the actual prep and cooking as possible.
Cooking Gear for Kids
So beyond the book, what else does a mini chef need in the kitchen? Well, if you ask my sons, they will insist on a proper chef’s jacket, complete with a hat. We went with the classic Melissa & Doug chef costume. Simple but very good quality (ours are about five years old now and still brand new, despite hundreds of kitchen spills and washings), and sized for kids to grow into. The hat is adjustable and you can just roll up the sleeves if it seems enormous at first. We’ve been gifted various kids’ aprons and other chef hats and such over the years and none of them have held up remotely as well as the Melissa & Doug version.
(However, note that the oven mitts on these costumes are for pretend play ONLY. If you plan to ever let your child handle a hot pan [which I actually don’t recommend…it’s okay to keep certain tasks for adults only], you’ll need a proper protective mitt.)
As for actual cooking GEAR, a nice set of kid-sized knives is a good thing to have. Because here’s the thing that sounds wrong but isn’t: You don’t want your child trying to cut firm fruits/vegetables/etc. with a dull plastic knife or a standard butter knife. They will get super frustrated (because it just won’t WORK), and they are actually more likely to lose control of the movement while pushing down suuuuuupppppppper hard and then injure themselves. Dull knives can really hurt! You need to give them the proper tools for the job, just sized correctly for their hands. There are lots of good options out there — I’d recommend a basic set like this one with serrated edges and a bright colorful handle so a small child can quickly identify the Safe End vs. the Sharp End.
Beyond that, we never bought any other specialty kids’ gear. We use our own full-sized bowls, measuring tools and pots and pans. We started out with basic Montessori activities like spreading jam or soft butter on bread and crackers using a dull knife, then taught some basic chopping skills with super ripe bananas and avocados. Then we moved on to the small serrated knives (WITH SUPERVISION). The kids’ cookbooks above recommend using a hot plate instead of a regular stove, but that’s more of an accommodation for keeping everything right at the child’s level. We use a stepstool right at the stove that puts our boys right at the proper level for stirring and flipping their food. I like this setup better because right from the start, the kids learn to respect the real stove, and understand what parts get hot (burners, sides of pots, etc.) and what parts they don’t need to be afraid of (control knobs, oven door handle, etc.).
So there you go. Pretend Soup, Salad People, chef’s costume and kids’ knives. Everything you need to get your preschooler cooking. (I mean, to get them to learn to cook, not to actually cook your…oh, nevermind.)
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Photo source: Depositphotos/NelliSyr