Whether you have children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews, it can be fun to share a love of cooking with growing minds. These quick and easy recipes have definite kid appeal.
You'll also find reader-tested tips and recipes that get kids to eat some of their least-favorite foods. Also, you'll find simple ideas for summer fun.
Quick and easy recipes with kid appeal
Sloppy Joe sauce gives a bit of sweetness to prepared spaghetti sauce in this meaty mixture that Lou Ellen McClinton serves over pasta wheels. "My family and friends like Sloppy Joe Wagon Wheels and don't realize how easy it is to make," says the Jacksonville, North Carolina cook.
Wheel of an Idea. Make nifty necklaces with string and dry wagon wheel or tube pasta. Or use laces of licorice and doughnut-shaped cereal to create colorful bracelets or Hawaiian leis.
Lunchtime can be a boatload of fun when you serve Cucumber Canoes from Robert Gibson of Norristown, Pennsylvania. Youngsters can hollow out the cucumbers and fill them with a tasty tuna mixture to create fuss-free boats. Add cherry tomatoes for people and carrot sticks for oars. These are fun for kids to put together using healthy vegetables, and they love eating them because they made it themselves.
"When my grandchildren and great-grandchildren come to visit, I enlist their help to put the finishing touches on a batch of Puddin' Cones," shares Edna Hoffman of Hebron, Indiana. Kids can't wait to get a lick at these sweet snacks, which are less messy than ice cream. Since the cones are filled with a mixture of pudding and whipped topping mix, you don't have to worry about them melting on a warm day!
"My grandmother passed down an ice cream recipe years ago," recalls Jo Snyder of South Bend, Indiana. "Our kids loved it when I made it into Pineapple Ice Pops. Now our grandchildren enjoy the frozen treats when they visit…the older ones can assemble them on their own."
Head Pops with Ideas. Becky Van Beek of Bismark, North Dakota was explaining to her son how to make homemade pudding pops by pouring the pudding into molds and freezing them. "He suggested that it might be easier to stick Popsicle sticks into the individual snack cups we regularly buy and freeze them instead," she notes. What an easy idea! They've been making it that way ever since!
Getting kids to eat their veggies
"Our children refused to eat cooked broccoli," says Dawn Trapp from West Fargo, North Dakota. "Then I discovered Cheesy Broccoli Bake. It has tender rice in a cheese sauce topped with bread crumbs. The kids hardly notice the broccoli, and all four ask for seconds. This casserole is also a favorite with adults. When I bring it to a potluck, I bring home an empty dish."
"I get our kids to eat raw carrots by grating them and mixing them with lots of colorful, naturally sweet fruit in Fruity Carrot Salad," says Susan Stevens of Orange Park, Florida. "Sometimes I add marshmallows and a creamy dressing to camouflage the carrots."
Marilyn Kutzli of Preston, Iowa has found that kids enjoy nutritious foods more if they're dressed up a bit and served in small kid-size portions. Handy canned pears get new appeal when made into individual Pear Crisp Cups. These yummy treats are no fuss to prepare, and kids love the crunchy brown sugar, cinnamon and almond topping. They're a super snack or dessert.
After I prepare a box of macaroni and cheese, I stir in some pureed yellow squash. My family doesn't notice the addition, but I feel better about including more veggies in their meals. —Angela Zwart, Maple Grove, Minnesota
When my children were small, they hated kidney beans in their chili, but I wanted to make sure they got all of the protein and fiber the beans provide. So I’d puree 3/4 of the beans and half of a can of tomato sauce in the blender. Then I added this mixture to the chili along with the whole beans I'd set aside. While they would still pick the whole beans out of their chili, I knew they were getting the benefits of the beans. The pureed mixture made the chili extra thick and tasty, too. —Lorri Simmons, Minden City, Michigan
How to get kids to help cook
Kids often want to see what you're doing and lend a hand. Based on how old they are, kids of all ages can help in some way. Here are some easy ways to get kids involved. Let them:
- Mash the potatoes or berries for a recipe.
- Scoop pancake batter with a measuring cup.
- Top cookies with M&Ms, chocolate chips, raisins, etc. rather than mixing into the dough
- Punch down the yeast dough when it's ready.
- Layer the ingredients for a trifle.
- Start cleanup by licking the bowls and spoons for frosting, pudding, whipped cream, and other safe-to-eat mixtures.
Simple ideas for summer fun
Trying to cook up a creative children's birthday bash? Plan a party for young chefs like Donna Birdwhistell of Goose Creek, South Carolina did when daughter Katelyn turned 8.
"We decorated the dining room with a red and white color scheme," Donna explains. They included a checked tablecloth, matching paper plates and napkins, and red and white balloons.
The pint-size party-goers donned plastic aprons and chef's hats upon their arrival. The girls also received a small rubber spatula, wooden spoon and colorful pot holder to take home as party favors.
The highlight was creating and eating make-your-own meals. The girls spread sauce on small circles of refrigerated pizza dough and sprinkled them with toppings to produce personal pizzas. (A simple idea for Biscuit Tostadas, shown at right, can be found on the Taste of Home Recipe Finder.)
They also wrapped hot dogs with crescent roll dough to make pigs in the blanket. An adult manned the oven for both baked items, so there was no worry about little fingers getting burned.
For dessert, guests frosted and decorated individual birthday cakes using cupcakes that Grandma Sandra had baked ahead of time. They also concocted their own ice cream sundaes for a sweet end to the party.