Families cooking and eating a meal together has become less of a tradition these days, due largely in part to an increasing amount of worldly distractions that leave family bonding time and a nice conversation during dinner out of the question. Put down the smartphones, tablets, earbuds and video game controllers, and set aside one day each week amid all the flurry of extracurricular activities and commitments to enjoy a home-cooked meal at the dining room table. Include the kids not only in the cooking process but also the task of grocery shopping when possible, and family cooking night will become a tradition, one that strengthens relationships, creates memories and fosters life skills that children use for the rest of their lives.
The television show MasterChef Junior has prompted many families to begin exploring the archaic ritual of enjoying a home-cooked meal together once again. Even the youngest children can help out in the kitchen, but of course they need to be handling age appropriate food prep instructions. Young children are also often picky eaters, but one workaround is to cook by color with dishes like Fire Engine Meatballs and a macaroni & cheese bake. Parents can also allow children to invite a friend over for dinner, especially since family cooking night is likely to be a weekend dinner for most families. Kids are much more likely to be open and communicative with a friend around, and they are also more inclined to have fun making these delicious dishes together with their parents.
All About The Sauce
Did someone say meatballs? It's time to make spaghetti! Not only is this a dish that kids enjoy, but parents can channel their best Italian accents and make this night all about the sauce! How cool would it be to work with your children on that top-secret recipe for spaghetti sauce that has the entire family acting like food critics & connoisseurs? Your choice of noodles can be cooked on the side, but you also want to make the meatballs with the kids, giving them a chance to do something else they will likely enjoy, the chance to play with their food. No food fights!
For an authentic Italian spaghetti sauce, start by chopping up one onion and five cloves of garlic, mixing it with two teaspoons of olive oil in a saucepan on medium heat. Have the kids then add 34 ounces of tomato paste, seven cups of water, one teaspoon of white sugar, a pinch of crushed red pepper two tablespoons of basil and your choice of Italian seasoning. Allowing the sauce to simmer and marry ingredients and flavors is important, so the sauce should be prepared first. It's also time to use that Italian accent and introduce a special secret ingredient of your choice.
Next, it's time to make the meatballs! This process is fun and quite simple, even when making authentic Italian meatballs because all the ingredients are dumped into a large mixing bowl without any tedious instruction. The ingredients are: One pound of ground beef, two eggs, 1/4 cup of milk, ground pepper, Parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs, salt, parsley and garlic powder. Once all of these ingredients are in the large mixing bowl, let the fun begin! Golf ball-sized meatballs are ideal, and the idea is for the kids to mix all the ingredients and form meatballs using their hands. Cooking with kids doesn't get any more fun than that! When finished, the meatballs are dropped gently into the homemade spaghetti sauce and allowed to simmer with the sauce until someone grabs a teaspoon, daintily tastes the sauce and exclaims 'Mama-Mia!'
Pizza is a favorite food of just about every kid, and making homemade pizzas with children can be so much fun. Children can be invited to the grocery store to select their own toppings. A five year old might suggest M&Ms, but redirection with a smile will have them looking at all kinds of topping choices. The idea here for this family dinner recipe is to keep it simple, not necessarily opting to make the crust or pizza sauce from scratch. Grab a can of your favorite pizza sauce, and opt for the canned dough or the ready-made pizza crusts.
The fun is all about the pizza toppings, and since the recipe is being kept simple, it is one that can also be enjoyed on a weeknight when everyone is rather short on time and would rather spend that extra time talking over a delicious slice of homemade pizza. Pizza is also an opportunity to get younger children to explore more vegetables and foods of color. There are different meats, cheeses, and a different type of sauce can even be used, such as barbecue sauce or Alfredo sauce. Hint: For those kids who are picky eaters and might opt for only a cheese pizza or one topping like pepperoni or hamburger, prompt them with the idea of making a pizza taste like a cheeseburger. Cheeseburger pizza is usually a big hit with the young ones.
Dessert - Peanut Butter Pie
Kids love dessert! What's great about dessert is that there are so many desserts that require very little preparation. In fact, there is one outstanding dessert that kids will love that requires creation without necessarily any cooking at all. There are a ton of different recipes for this delectable dessert. You're going to need either a regular graham cracker or chocolate graham cracker pie crust. Remember how when making the meatballs, it was simple because all the ingredients were thrown into a large mixing bowl? It's time to do the same thing with the following ingredients: One cup of peanut butter, one cup of confectioner's sugar, 1/3 cup of milk, eight ounces of Cool Whip and eight ounces of cream cheese.
Ask the kids to help get the ingredients into the bowl and thoroughly mixed together. The mixture is then poured into the pie shell, and now it's time to add toppings. One idea is to add an extra layer of whipped cream on top along with a liberal sprinkle of chocolate chips. Chocolate syrup and peanuts are two other popular options for extra toppings. Ensuring there is a dessert to be part of family cooking night helps keep the kids excited and at the dinner table.
Now that you have a plan for spaghetti, pizza and dessert, it's time to explore an avenue for introducing all types of different dishes to family cooking night. What other creative way to do that than to present the idea of a family potluck dinner! To pull this off, each member of the family is asked to choose a dish that they would like to make. This gets kids involved in not only the food preparation and cooking processes but again, meal selection.
After everyone has made their selections, parents can add another side dish or a vegetable to the mix. The idea behind the family potluck is for each family member to make his or her own dish, but everyone is in the kitchen cooking together as a family. Naturally, with younger kids, they are also going to need guidance when making their own dishes. A family potluck is a wonderful way for everyone to come together for family cooking night to enjoy a creative and unique meal based off of favorite dishes that all are sure to enjoy.
Children are always watching their parents and learning from them, and these family cooking nights provide experiences that they can draw from later on in life. The picky eaters are going to be peeled back a layer at a time, and nutrition becomes more of a focus. If you ask any adults who had regular cooking experiences as children with their parents, you'll find that these are some of their fondest family memories. Family cooking night is the foundation your children need to be able to handle themselves in the kitchen as they get older and to recognize not only the opportunity but the importance of setting down to dinner with family.
To kick start this initiative with your family, check out our monthly Family Night cooking class at Lincoln Square. We've also just released our summer kids and teen cooking camps.
This is a guest post for The Chopping Blog compliments of AnswerThis.co.