Palisa Anderson’s children followed her into the kitchen at a very young age. Now in their tweenage years, they’ve graduated to full-blown sous-chef status. “I feel like people really underestimate how capable kids are at that age,” she says.
Their kitchen duties now involve chopping, peeling and picking – and they’re particularly adept at the last task. Even if kids aren’t regular kitchen helpers, with much of Australia in some kind of lockdown, cooking together can be a great way to occupy time and learn something new.
Here are a few recipes to get you started.
Easy does it
Pancake and pizza are both classic dishes to make with children, between the flour sifting, topping sprinkling and relatively speedy gratification. Which makes Beth Bentley’s recipe for magic pizza a double winner – because it’s a pizza and a pancake at once, and the whole thing can be made in under half an hour.
Not quite as quick, but just as easy is David Atherton’s pasta bake, which is endlessly customisable between picking pasta shapes and choosing “whatever fillings you want”, he writes.
If you’re looking for a dish kids can make unaided, “eggs are a great one”, says Anderson. If you have a rice cooker, she recommends a particularly nourishing fend-for-yourself dish for kids. “My kids know how to cook rice in a rice pot,” she says, noting that first-time users should be taught to mind the steam that rises when you open the pot. Get your kids to put a batch of rice on, and then when it is half-way cooked, carefully wash an egg, pop it in the rice cooker, shell and all, using a spoon to avoid burns, and wait for the rice to finish cooking. “Then, when it’s cool enough, you peel the egg” drop it back into the rice “and muddle it up with a bit of fish sauce”.
For younger kids, try something that’s part meal and part play dough, like Rachel Roddy’s handmade pici pasta with pea and ricotta sauce. “Kids like mixing flour and water then pummelling it into a dough, stirring, separating eggs, making pizza, cutting biscuits,” she writes. “When doing this they become completely immersed.” Making these worm-like pici is “laborious fun”.
When making soup, Anderson applies her kids’ nimble hands to searching for treasure – by picking stock bones clean. “You can use pretty much any bones, chicken carcasses … Basically you separate the broth from all the bits and then once the bits cool, the kids go hunting. It’s like an archaeological dig, but for food.” Recently, she made a stock with beef bones that had been living in the freezer, then “once the bones had cooled off I gave the kids crab pickers and got them to pick all the meat off the marrow bones, all the gooey bits off the knuckles, the soft tendony bits … all the gelatinous bits, the kids are responsible for, and then those go back in the soup.” There’s an added advantage, beyond good texture: “They pick it much cleaner than I would, it’s like picking your nose.” Anderson simmered and skimmed her stock all day, using vegetable peelings and other off-cuts, then adding fresh greens, cooked beans and fried fish at the end. But if you’re new to making stock, you can find a guide here.
Yotam Ottolenghi suggests making his mozzarella rice cakes, which require moulding into shape with your hands, on a full stomach. This is because kids are “are much more focused when they’re not raging hungry – so these are ideal, because they can be made a day ahead, ready to be fried the next day”.
Uyen Luu likens Vietnamese summer rolls to sandwiches – “you can put anything in them and kids love them”. Her recipe uses omelette and avocado, and when making the dish children “get to touch everything and assemble the roll how they like”.
If you’re nervous about burns, even little kids can be included in making no-cook recipes, which also tend to be an exercise in patience. Made with chia seeds and blueberries, David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl’s overnight oats have a pleasingly gooey frogspawn quality.
For Felicity Cloake, fruit fool is not only fun to say, but also “just the thing to make with young children” because it’s delicious and “stupidly quick and easy to knock up … You can make it with just about any fruit you like, turn it vegan, dress it up for a special occasion or make it so healthy, you could even have it for breakfast.”
Even in the depths of winter, there’s still some joy to be found in making homemade paddle pops – particularly these relatively healthy, very pretty ones by Ottolenghi, made with yoghurt and, surprisingly, beetroot.
If you’re after an elaborate, multi-day part-cooking, part-craft project, Kim Joy’s chocolate cake terrarium is the ticket. The jelly rocks require several days advanced preparation, then there are the dinosaur biscuits, the colourful crumb, the chocolate mousse and the cake itself. All culminating in the final act of fun: assembling the dish. Just make sure you’ve got a fish bowl lying around before you begin.
For something simpler, Jackie Middleton’s impossible pie that bakes with a “perfectly wobbly” custard centre can be made in just over an hour. “I’ve been teaching the recipe to my children, and in the process I’ve made dozens of variations,” she writes.
Finally, for an easy win, there’s always packet cake mix. Canstar surveyed 1,300 Australians to find the best of the bunch, and Aldi’s White Mill version came out on top.
What have you been cooking with your children? Share ideas and suggestions in the comments.