When our kids are little, we do everything in our power to keep them away from the hazards of the kitchen. But as they get older, it is important to adjust our expectations about the role they can play in preparing food for themselves and for the family.
Tweens can, and should, take on a number of basic kitchen chores, from getting their own breakfasts to preparing snacks for sleepovers.
Nothing makes a tween happier than feeling competent and trusted. By teaching kids this age some basic kitchen skills and safety rules, and then allowing them to put those skills into practice, we give them an opportunity to demonstrate independence and creativity. Their self-confidence, shaky at this tricky age, gets a boost.
Although it can be difficult, we need to make sure we are not doing things for our kids that they are capable of doing themselves.
Here are some ideas for kitchen projects that you can tackle with your tween:
Chopped Vegetable Salad
This is my tween’s favorite salad and a lunchbox staple. Although I usually chop the onion, Zoe can cut the cucumbers and tomatoes herself with a small paring knife and make the dressing to her own taste.
- 1 small red onion, diced
- 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
- 4 mini cucumbers, halved and sliced
- Red wine vinegar
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
Combine the chopped vegetables in a large bowl. Drizzle with red wine vinegar and olive oil to taste. Season with salt and pepper.
My 10-year-old, Zoe, wanted to make a candy and popcorn mix that she had seen on YouTube. We came up with our own recipe and packed it into jars decorated with pretty ribbons to give as gifts. It’s a fun project to do together all year round. Some of our favorite toppings are M&Ms, candied ginger and pretzel sticks.
- 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1/3 cup popcorn kernels
- 4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 1 Tbsp. butter
- 1 tsp. salt
- Assorted sweet and salty toppings, such as dried fruit, nuts, small candies and pretzels
Heat oil over medium-high heat in heavy-bottomed pot and add popcorn kernels.
Cover pot with a lid leaving a small crack for steam to escape. Listen for popping and remove pot from heat as soon as popping stops or slows to a few seconds between pops. (An adult should handle this step.)
Spread popcorn in an even layer on a foil-lined baking sheet and sprinkle with salt. Set aside.
Melt butter and chocolate in a double-boiler set over simmering water OR a heavy-bottomed pot over a very low flame. Stir to combine. Remove from heat as soon as the chocolate is melted and watch out for scorching.
Scrape chocolate mixture into a quart-size plastic bag and squeeze the chocolate into one corner of the bag. Cut off the tip of the corner of the bag and gently squeeze to pipe the melted chocolate over the popcorn.
While the chocolate is still warm, sprinkle the chosen toppings over the popcorn.
Chill the tray of popcorn in the fridge until the chocolate is set.
Gently pack the popcorn mix into pint or quart-size Mason jars and decorate with ribbon for giving.
Emily Paster is a food writer and mom living in River Forest. She writes about fitting ambitious food into family life on her award-winning blog, West of the Loop. She is currently working on a book about food swapping.