Grab an apron for your little one and get ready to have some fun in the kitchen! Teaching your kids to cook at a young age can provide so many benefits. Not only does it provide you and your children with priceless one-on-one time, but it also gives kids an appreciation of a wide variety of foods. Basically, involving your children in cooking the family meals is a subtle way of teaching healthy eating habits–you’re not just plopping a plate full of leafy greens in front of them and hoping they’ll choke it down with minimal drama. You’re keeping them actively involved in meal planning and preparation, and they are far more likely to want to try foods that they’ve helped prepare. You’ll peak their interest, even more, when you let them choose one of these awesome, kid-friendly recipes for your next meal:

1. Mini Turkey Burgers. Who doesn’t love a juicy burger fresh off the grill? These slider-sized version are perfect for little ones! Turkey is a great lean alternative to the traditional beef burgers, and you can keep these nice and moist by using all dark meat:

  • 1 pound ground dark meat turkey
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • olive oil (for brushing on burger buns)
  • 8 mini burger buns

Begin by mixing your ground beef in a bowl–your child can add all the seasonings. Separate into eight 1/2-inch thick patties. Let your child rinse the tomatoes and lettuce in cold water, then separate the lettuce leaves while you slice the tomatoes. Once your patties are grilled (6 minutes on each side), use a pastry brush to lightly brush the insides of the buns with olive oil and grill until they are warm and toasty. Your little ones will enjoy arranging their mini burger masterpieces!

2. Ham and Veggie Pinwheels. These adorable pinwheels are fun and super easy to make for a fantastic lunch:

  • 4 8-inch flour tortillas
  • 3/4 cup light cream cheese
  • 1 small cucumber, peeled and sliced
  • 4 large slices of baked ham
  • 2 medium tomatoes, sliced thin

It’s helpful to have all of your ingredients sliced up before you call your kiddos into the kitchen. Once you are ready, have your little chef begin spreading about three tablespoons of cream cheese on each tortilla. Next, they’ll love to “build” their lunch by stacking cucumber, ham, and tomato slices on the prepared tortillas. Last, help your child roll up each tortilla and then watch their amazement when you slice them and magically create awesome little pinwheels! The great thing about this recipe is that you can tailor it to your child’s preferences–maybe they don’t like ham and will choose to use slices of juicy chicken. Or maybe they’d like to add some fresh peppers into the mix.

3. Baked Ziti with Ground Beef (Cake Style). You might be thinking, sure, my kids like pasta and cheese, but where’s the wow factor? This Martha Stewart gem dials up the fun by using a springform pan to transform your traditional baked ziti into a “cake.” That’s right, your child will enjoy a cake-like slice of pasta oozing with bubbly cheese and ground beef:

  • salt
  • 1 pound of ziti
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound ground meat (beef, pork, turkey, or chicken works fine!)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
  • butter (to grease pan)
  • 1 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
  • 8 ounces coarsely grated mozzarella cheese

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Cook pasta in a large pot of salty, boiling water until slightly undercooked. Drain cooked pasta and rinse with cold water so your little one can handle it. Toss pasta with one tablespoon of olive oil and parmesan cheese. Butter your springform pan, then hand the pasta over to your child. Show your child how to stand the ziti up on its’ end in the springform pan–you’ll want your pan tightly packed with standing ziti in order to form the “cake.” Allow your child to sit at the table and work on this step while you prepare the meat sauce.

Brown meat in 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes. Add garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, ground pepper and cook for two minutes. Add tomatoes and simmer for 20 minutes, or until sauce is thickened. Once your sauce is complete, and your child is done filling the pan with ziti, spread two cups of meat sauce over the pasta, pushing it down to fill the holes of the ziti. Bake for 15 minutes, then top with mozzarella and return to the oven for 10 minutes longer. Let the dish stand for 15 minutes after removing from the oven, then carefully run a butter knife along the edges of the “cake” to loosen it. Remove the rim of your springform pan and voila!–your child has created a cake made of pasta! Cut into wedges and enjoy the smiles all around the dinner table.

Cooking together has always been a wonderful way to create a special bond with our children. There are also a ton of other benefits to teaching your children to cook–more time in the kitchen means less time in front of an electronic device, they’ll learn valuable tips about choosing healthy foods, and creating awesome family meals will boost their self-esteem. We hope you and your little ones will have fun with these fabulous recipes next time you’re in the kitchen!

 

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