The Inspired Cook

Column 18 of The Inspired Cook for the Van Zandt News

Teaching children to cook

Summertime is the perfect time to teach your children to cook. If you are wondering how old your child should be to start learning to cook, experts say that children first start showing signs of interest in cooking about the age of two or three. Therefore, any time after that is appropriate.

                For young children, make sure that whatever task you give them that they will be successful doing it. Give them lots of praise and encouragement. Doing so will help to build their self-confidence.

                While helping you to cook a meal, children from age three to five years should be able to master a few specific tasks. These may include snapping beans or peas; tearing lettuce or other foods into bit-sized pieces; spreading butter, jelly, peanut butter, etc. onto bread; scrubbing potatoes; rinsing fruit or vegetable in a colander; mashing bananas; shaking a slurry mixture in a sealed plastic container; using a cookie or biscuit cutter; and stirring with a spoon.

                Children aged eight to 10 years should be able to perform the above-listed tasks along with some more advanced ones. These skills may consist of using a dinner knife or plastic one to cut soft foods such as lunchmeats, cheese, butter, fruits, and vegetables; cracking eggs and separating the yolks from the whites; pouring and measuring liquid and dry ingredients; grating fruit zest, carrots, and cheese; and reading some recipes.

                Other advanced skills that they employ may require adult supervision. A few involve reading and using meat and candy thermometers; using a food processor, electric mixer, toaster, and can opener; stirring food while it’s cooking on a stovetop; and using a microwave or conventional oven.

                While you and your children are having fun in your kitchens, you also can show them that math is needed in the real world. This will help to reinforce the fact that math is a vital part of their education because they will need it throughout their lives and not just in school.

If your children are studying fractions, cooking will help them to visualize just what a half, third, or fourth looks like. Halving a recipe or doubling one would be a wonderful extra-curricular math lesson to assign.

                Today I’m sharing some newly formulated recipes to help you get started with your cooking lessons. My inspiration was to create easy-to-make dishes that kids would like.


Not-Sloppy Sloppy Joes


                1 lb. Ground beef, 93/7 blend

1 1/2 c. Hunt’s 100% Natural Tomato Ketchup with no preservatives or high-fructose corn syrup

2 t. Worcestershire sauce

                2 T. Dehydrated minced onions

3/4 t. Garlic powder

1/2 t. Sea salt, fine grind

1/4 t. Black pepper

3 T. Light-brown sugar

3 Pita breads


                Coat a 2-cup capacity or larger glass measuring cup with cooking spray. Pour or squeeze in the ketchup. Add in the onions, garlic powder, salt, black pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and sugar. Stir well to combine; set aside for about 15 minutes to let the onions rehydrate.

                Into a large nonstick skillet, brown the ground meat over medium-high heat. Drain off the grease. Pour in the ketchup mixture. Heat until it boils, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes.

                Warm the pita bread if desired. To serve, slice the pitas into halves and then fill each half with meat mixture.

Yield: 6 servings

Note: My daughters wouldn’t eat onions when they were children, but my using dehydrated ones fooled them many times. If needed, the onions can be omitted or substituted with 1/2 of a teaspoon of onion powder, just to add a bit of flavor.

Cinnamon-Apple French-Toast Breakfast Bake

Bread ingredients:

                1 Loaf (12-14 oz.) French bread, cut or torn into bite-sized pieces

                6 Extra-large eggs or 8 regular-sized

                3 c. Organic coconut milk or milk of your choice

                1/2 c. Sugar

                2 T. Vanilla extract

                5 Gala apples, peeled, sliced and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

                3/4 t. Ground cinnamon

                1/4 t. Ground cardamom

Topping ingredients:

                1/3 c. Almond flour or all-purpose flour

                1/3 c. Light brown sugar, packed

                1/4 t. Finely ground sea salt

                3/4 t. Ground cinnamon

                1/4 t. Ground cardamom

                1/3 c. Organic coconut oil, melted (You can use butter.)


                Coat a 9- by 13-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Place the bread cubes into the pan. Scatter the apple pieces over the bread.

                Into a medium-sized mixing bowl, place the eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and cardamom, whisking thoroughly to combine. Pour this mixture evenly over the apples.

                Into a small saucepan, place the coconut oil and melt it over medium heat. Once melted, remove it from the heat and allow it to cool while measuring the other topping ingredients.

                Into a small mixing bowl, place the flour, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, and cardamom; stir. Pour in the melted oil, stirring well to combine. Drop dollops of the topping mixture on top of the apples, spreading it out with a knife to cover more surface area.

                Cover the pan with foil as it will be baked later with a foil covering. Refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight.

                When ready to bake the casserole, take the dish out of the refrigerator; set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Bake it for 45 to 60 minutes, depending on your desired texture. I cooked mine for 45 minutes because I wanted it to have a bread pudding-like texture. If you prefer a drier texture, then you should bake it for about 55 to 60 minutes

                 To serve, allow each person to choose to have his/her serving plain, dusted with powdered sugar, or drizzled with warm maple syrup.

                Leftovers should be covered and refrigerated. To reheat, place the desired amount into a greased pan, cover it with foil, and bake in a 350-degree preheated oven for 25 minutes.

                Yield: 8-10 servings