This last week, each of the boys was put in charge of planning, making and cleaning up a dinner. They perused the recipes here on the blog and their favorite cookbooks* for hours (not kidding) to plan the perfect meal with the full expectation that other than me hanging around to make sure no fingers got cut off, they had to be responsible start to finish for dinner.

The planning was elaborate and the results were fabulous.

Jackson went with Tortellini Alfredo (p. 60 from the Williams-Sonoma The Cookbook for Kids). For our family, he doubled the recipe (we used the tortellini from Costco and the simple sauce was from-scratch). Amazing! And seriously, this kid was so proud. He served it with simple roasted broccoli and apple slices.
Cooking Bootcamp

Walker handled Tuesday night. He made zucchini cornbread (this standby recipe with a few adaptations; I’ll be posting it next week because it was incredible), BBQ baked beans from my old recipe binders, and a green salad.

He took the turkey bacon chopping duty very seriously (as in, he wouldn’t even turn to smile for the camera.
Cooking Bootcamp

What a dinner! Walker wrote down the recipes in his journal that night so he could take them to college with him, which made me smile and sob all at the same time.
Cooking Bootcamp

Cade snagged Wednesday night which turned into Thursday night because of a crazy Wednesday night (does that ever happen to anyone else?). He opted for Sweet and Sour Sausages (p. 108-09 of Paula Deen’s Cookbook for the Lunch-Box Set), thin mint truffles (just the ol’ Oreo truffles recipe that’s been around for generations but using up our Girl Scout cookies instead), baked potatoes and roasted beets. It was aggressive. But he worked it like a professional (along with his trusty sous chef) and dinner was delicious. He used chicken sausages from Trader Joe’s and all-natural (no HCFS) ketchup for the sauce.
Cooking Bootcamp

I caught a minute or so of him dipping the truffles (all by himself!) on video thinking I’d post it to our family blog (grandma would be so proud) but Cade thought it would be fun to make his own cooking video so I clipped it into a 1-minute segment to post here, too. Again, his little assistant was sticking pretty close the whole time. Fairly impressive candy dipping skills for an 8-year old! And please ignore the disastrous kitchen and open pantry – talk about unfiltered real life here.

Ty’s well thought out dinner is getting pushed back to this coming Monday but he couldn’t be more excited to make Hawaiian Haystacks, breadsticks and roasted carrots (p.99 from Williams-Sonoma Fun Food).

I certainly don’t think kids need child-specific cookbooks to be able to cook (my kids can make most of the recipe I’ve posted here) but because the kids love to look through cookbooks of all sorts (color photos are really important especially for kids’ cookbooks in my opinion!), we’ve amassed a small collection of kid cookbooks.

Each of them have their high and low points but many of the recipes the boys have made are pretty tasty. Most of the books below (with the exception of a few of the Paula Deen recipes) don’t dumb-down the food (they use real ingredients without taking shortcuts with processed food yet the recipes are still very approachable and kid-friendly) and overall, I love having all these in our collection:
Williams-Sonoma Fun Food
Williams-Sonoma The Cookbook for Kids
Cooking Class: 57 Fun Recipes Kids Will Love to Make (and Eat!)
Paula Deen’s Cookbook for the Lunch-Box Set

I’ve posted more about cooking with kids here; lots of good details in the post and comment thread.

As for the cleaning up part, we still need to work on that a bit (Brian’s partly at fault for dragging the kids out after dinner to help pull up goat head weeds along our ditch line and work outside before bedtime so the dishes didn’t always get done by the responsible party). I think if given a choice, they’d rather have washed dishes than pull up weeds.

83 Responses to Snapshot Saturday: Cooking Dinner Bootcamp

  1. Jillene says:

    Hi Mel,
    My husband wants me to pick out a new double oven for my birthday–one that is not almond. (=. I spy with my little eye a double oven beyond your chocolate-dipping cherubs. Do you mind sharing what kind you have and whether or not you love it? I’m not the most decisive person. Maybe you could just tell me what to do? That’d be great! (=

    • Mel says:

      Hi Jillene – I actually had someone else ask me a similar question the other day. Here was my response to her. Let me know if you have any other questions:
      When we remodeled our kitchen in Minnesota a few years ago, it was the same case and I opted for one of these split ovens and loved it so when we moved here and we went to replace our stove/oven, I knew I wanted another one. It obviously doesn’t have the same space as two full ovens but it offers instant flexibility in baking several things at different temperatures or knocking out a batch of cookies in no time. The bottom oven in mine is convection, the top is not. The bottom has two racks, the top just has one. If I flip the bottom oven to convection and preheat the top, too, I can bake three sheets of cookies at a time. The bottom oven easily fits a turkey or something large and in charge like that. I read tons and tons of reviews and both times, I’ve ended up with Kenmore models from Sears and have been happy. The convection tends to brown one side of my cookies more than the other so I either deal with it or flip the cookie sheets halfway but that’s the only real downside other than losing the bottom oven drawer (that’s the case with all of these split oven models). My sis-in-law has a GE split oven and loves it, too. It’s so worth it especially if you can’t have the real deal (two full ovens!).

  2. Stacy says:

    Oh Mel!! I love this idea! I just told my 9 year old daughter that she’s in charge of a meal next week. Her 4 year old sister volunteered to help out 😉 ! I can’t wait to see what they choose!

  3. Camilla Christensen says:

    Oh my goodness. You are amazing. I hope someday my littles are willing to cook with me (and eat these foods!) too. You are such a beautiful mom and your light shines so brightly. Thank you for sharing goodness with the world.

  4. Hyo says:

    I so understand about kids helping out in the kitchen as a blessing and a curse but in the end a big blessing, right? But I have to say that I do love knowing that your kids have helped you with these recipes and in executing them. My daughter has been wanting to help in the kitchen and try recipes and I love how you’ve created and organized your recipes. They are all so doable for a 10 year old and even for my 4 and 5 year old (with help from mom, of course). Thank you for being so real on your sight and in your cooking. You make us all look in rock stars in the kitchen!

  5. diane says:

    Hi Mel. Your boy, Walker, with the knife is great! I love kitchen knives, and I have one I can recommend that is extreemly useful and “finger-friendly” for kids (or anybody). It is a ceramic blade with a serrated edge that I purchased on the Grommet site for less that $50. Really perfect for fruit, especially tomatoes, and works well for anything without a bone. Love, you Mel, and your shrimp enchaladas is the bomb!

  6. Pam says:

    How fun! I love getting my 7 year old daughter involved in the kitchen. Those cookbooks sound fantastic, but I’m not sure I want to go out and buy all of them. If you had to choose one, which would it be?

    • Mel says:

      That’s a tough choice but probably one of the William-Sonoma ones or the cooking class one (I realize I’m not help here). You might want to read through the reviews on amazon to see which might fit your personal style best.

  7. Susan says:

    Thats wonderful – I realize i dont let my kids try things out more often – really should put a cooking challenge in our house too! Great idea thanks for sharing!

  8. Ruth says:

    Precious children! Precious memories……..for them AND for you! I love it!

  9. Ro says:

    More often than I care to admit, I kick the kids out of the kitchen because it’s faster to do it all myself -and we’re almost always short on time. This is a wonderful reminder that my priorities need a shake up! Thanks for the inspiration!

  10. Rachel says:

    This is awesome! Thank you for sharing!

  11. Holly says:

    I used to think I felt sorry for the girls your sons married because they’d have a lot to live up to cooking-wise, but now I think, SCORE for them – they won’t have to cook! Ok, and that was the CUTEST cooking assistant EVER!

  12. Helen says:

    Love this post !!! Cute video, such a great idea !!! Can you recommend a good brand of turkey bacon that crisps up !! I love turkey bacon and I’ve tried a few brands, but I’m having a hard time winning over the hubby to turkey bacon because most of what I’ve tried just doesn’t get crispy enough for him (or I might not be using the right cooking method ) 🙂

    • Mel says:

      I just use the turkey bacon from Costco (I can’t remember the brand, sorry!). I’ve kind of come to terms with the fact that turkey bacon won’t ever be quite as crispy and sizzly as pork bacon, but maybe that’s kind of the point? 🙂 I usually cook it on my griddle until it’s browned on both sides but it still is chewier than regular bacon. Cooking it in the microwave gets it crispier (between sheets of paper towels) but I usually end up burning it. Oops!

      • Helen says:

        Thanks Mel.. Sounds like I should maybe try the microwave method. I know what you mean about the ‘chewy’ thing, it really doesn’t bother me, just trying to convince my hubby we should stick with the healthier lower fat turkey bacon all the time, it could be a tough sell !!

  13. Jenn A says:

    Really fabulous! Was planning to do something similar with my boys this summer and haven’t yet. Gotta get on with it or the summer will be over!

  14. Sheila says:

    I love how you and Brian love your kids teaching, training, instructing them in a tight knit family atmosphere to love one another by daily working together in life not looking toward fulfilling selfish ambitions. And how wonderful to see how patience and loving the boys are toward Cam when cooking when we all groan sometimes at little ones slowing us up in the kitchen and creating bigger messes! Great job, boys! And thank you, Mel, for posting such encouraging and inspiring posts for families struggling with huge time constraints that what children learn within the confines of a family builds character and is so much more important (although adds value) than what they learn participating in team sports/dancing/drama/camps, etc.

  15. Beth says:

    I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE you this idea! We will be doing this in my house. My kids thank you bc they will be beyond excited about getting to cook dinner!

  16. Rachel says:

    Hi, Mel! This is such a great post. My 6 yo loves to help in the kitchen and I have been trying to relinquish my need for control and let her help more. This post is a great reminder of how much kids really do love to help! What knife is your son using to cut up the bacon? It looks kid friendly and my daughter would be over the moon to be able to cut things up!

  17. Melanie says:

    You are such a good mom. Your kids are all so cute!!! Seeing your calm, focused boys gives me hope. My daughter does pretty good in the kitchen, but my 2-year-old son acts more like a caveman or a primate, and every time I blink there is food flinging in all directions, raisins up his nose, knives flying out of cupboards, water being dumped onto the floor, and butter being shoved in his mouth by the fistful. I know it is just a phase that I will soon miss, so I try to enjoy the process. Some days get the better of me though…….anyways, it is fun to see updates on your little ones. I’d love to see an update on your life with the chickens!! Hopefully you’ll be starting to get some eggs soon!

  18. Leah says:

    I made my kids do this last summer and my son chose your skillet mac and cheese. He now suggests he makes it and brings it anytime we have people over, or go someplace we need to take food with. Totally empowering for him. My husband can’t boil water, but both of my boys are totally comfortable in the kitchen. I am sure their future wives will be very appreciative! So important to give our kids these life skills!

  19. Mikelle says:

    What a fun post! Love it! I don’t have kids of my own yet but when I do, I hope I can get my kids as involved as you have in the kitchen. Your kids going to be pros by the time they are adults and their future spouses are going to thank you. What a great mom you are!!! Thanks for all the fabulous recipes!

  20. Barb says:

    I had my girls helping me also when they were little- good memories. Right now my youngest is collecting her favorites in a notebook for when she gets….Married! Sigh…….
    She’s almost 18 and momma’s not ready for that step but things come around before you know it.

  21. Marie says:

    Your kids are so adorable! I love this concept. My twins are almost eight and love to cook with us but a lot of times we want to just rush through it without them. I’m going to look back at your other post about letting them help as well as the tools you used and get started! Cam is so cute in that video; the clap and her video bomb at the end are priceless. Thanks so much for sharing things like this in addition to the recipes. Love it!

  22. Leo Sigh says:

    What cute kids you have 🙂

    And the food looks delicious. Particularly noticing so many people with food blogs posting zucchini recipes at the moment, so I guess they’re in season (I live in Thailand, seasons are different and zucchinis are difficult to find :). And I’m getting some great ideas for zucchini dishes from them. Particularly like your cookie idea.

  23. Mickie says:

    I am dying over here, your Cade dips chocolate better than I do! Fantastic. They are going to be quite the lady catchers in (so you dont cry) 20 years or so 🙂

  24. Lindsay says:

    What a great idea! I’d love to try this with my boys!

  25. Laurel says:

    I love these posts. Adorable kiddos. It’s amazing to see how accomplished they all are in the kitchen. So fun. Cam is so cute in that video!! Can’t wait until my boys are big enough to want to work all by themselves. I bet they were so proud!

  26. Lynn says:

    You have a beautiful family!! Have children in the kitchen is such a joy and a wonderful bonding time. I feel teaching children to cook leads to life long healthy eating habits. Your blog always makes me smile and gives me the motivation to try new ideas in the kitchen. Thanks!!!!

    • Mel says:

      Thank you, Lynn – I agree with you! Sometimes it’s more work to have the kids in the kitchen with me but I know the trade-off is worth it.

  27. Liz says:

    So much fun – what a nice surprise on a Saturday. Thanks for sharing your family and I can’t wait for the zucchini cornbread recipe! So many skills employed in putting a meal together – and bonus that they all enjoy it.

    My brother and I both had to plan, shop and cook a meal every other week. We were also included in the kitchen with my mom and one grandmother. He and I both enjoy cooking as do my folks and even now (he’s 58, I’m 60, my mom is 80) – we enjoy cooking together. It is one of the things that despite diverse interests, we all have in common.

    • Mel says:

      Your closing sentence is awesome, Liz – I hope that as the kids grown and develop different interests and opinions, we’ll always have cooking and a love of food in common. Thank you!

  28. elisabeth says:

    Great experience for the kids!!! They are all so darling! Thanks for sharing:)

  29. Hollie says:

    Wowzers!!! I’m impressed. We are doing this next week…although I’ll probably get beef jerky with cheese whiz on it for dinner. I’m going to steal that cute sous chef too. When the kids go back to school and you need to run errands, she’s mine. We can run our hands through wheat kernels together all day.

    • Mel says:

      Haha, you are hilarious, Hollie. I’ll sneak you in some grub if you really end up with beef jerky + cheese whiz. And I’m not even telling Cam about your proposition. She’ll probably walk to your house.

  30. Katie says:

    Love this post! Do you have a link to the tortellini? I can’t find it online and would love to make it.

    • Mel says:

      Hi Katie – I don’t have a link to the tortellini – it’s in the the cookbook I linked to in the post and I haven’t posted an adaptation on my blog (yet).

  31. Jocy says:

    Beautiful and inspiring! Thanks for sharing!

  32. This is so inspiring, Mel! I’ve got big plans for little Camille one day! 🙂

  33. PamelaR says:

    55 years ago, when I was 11 and my brother was 9, my mom started the same thing. We each had to pick a night and cook dinner for the four of us. If I cooked, my brother cleaned up and vice versa. By the time we got to high school, we each had three days to cook for and mom picked up either the Saturday or Sunday. It was incredibly good training for the rest of our lives. I do think my brother is still the better cook. I love a good recipe, but he loves to invent a good recipe.

  34. Laurie says:

    They all did great! Smart mom teaching them to cook at a young age. They will be able to create good meals when they go to college or are on their own. And such a fun activity for kids to get to serve and eat what they made themselves.

  35. Danielle says:

    Thank you thank you for posting about cooking with kids a few weeks ago. It made me realize my now six-year-old could do so much more than I was allowing her to do. She’s been begging to help in the kitchen, so I gave my up need to control and have been letting her. She’s thriving. I bought her the Cooking Class book you referenced above and she loves it, as do I. I’m glad to see it’s “Mel approved”. 🙂 Makes me feel even better about my purchase.

    Thanks for running such a high quality blog without tons of yucky ads and other fillers. I’m not someone to who comments much, but I wanted to let you know how much I love your site and admire you. You’re awesome.

  36. Tami says:

    Cam kills me. Her applause and then her little finger wave at the camera. What a little cutie! I used to do this with my big kids and now I need to get my second batch helping.

  37. Barbara says:

    Wow, wow, wowie! What grrrreat little chefs you have! I’d give a lot to have my grandies taught cooking skills like yours! Maybe I can teach one a little bit in a couple of years, but her mom doesn’t cook, dad does, and he just doesn’t have much time for teaching. What a fantastic mom you are! I am making note of the kid cookbooks, maybe to give as gifts along with a grandma-made apron! Thanks for those tips Mel!

  38. sue says:

    How fantastic is this post and what an incredible job the kids did.
    I looooove the video with the Chef Supervisor looking on at all times 🙂
    way to go kids, great job!!!

  39. Jill says:

    Will you share your baked beans recipe? They look good, too!

  40. Jackie says:

    My mom did this same thing growing up with my brothers and I. My night was always Thursday. I remember I wanted to make BBQ chicken and mashed potatoes every week. I’ve tried it with my kids a couple of times and they love it. I should do it again. Thanks for the reminder!

  41. Charlotte Moore says:

    WOW!! I am impressed with these kiddos. They have had good instructions for sure. Way to go Mel.
    Just wanted to let you know I made your buttermilk banana bread a few months ago. I had a loaf in the freezer and gave it to a friend yesterday. They loved it.

  42. Monique says:

    Your kids:) So cute!

  43. Amy says:

    I was so excited to see this post! We have a 4yo, 2yo, and one on the way. I let them in the kitchen as much as my sanity can handle, and I would love to do a week like this in the future! When I got to the part about Walker writing the recipes in his journal – ack! I’m not even that sentimental of a person but that sure got me! Maybe he needs to start a dinner journal ala Dinner: A Love Story 🙂 If you ever do a roundup of kids cookbook reviews, I’d be interested. I agree kids don’t always need their own version of adult things, but I remember having kid cookbooks as a kid and loving them!

    • Amy says:

      PS I did see the list of cookbooks you gave – I just mean if you do a more indepth post someday with what to look for and what sorts of recipes the books include etc 🙂

    • Mel says:

      Cute idea about that journal – I’ll tell Walker! I’ll keep that in mind about a more in-depth review of kid cookbooks, thanks!

  44. Marci says:

    I loved this post! While my 3 year old boys cause complete chaos In my kitchen, my 5 year old daughter is a joy to cook with and I’m excited to get one of these cookbooks. Which one do you feel like promotes whole grains the most and has fewer dessert recipes? The couple kid cookbooks I have use a lot of white flour and have as many dessert recipes as meal and side recipes.

    • Mel says:

      That’s a good question, Marci. They all have positives and a few drawbacks but the Williams-Sonoma ones (particularly the Cookbook for Kids) and the Cooking Class ones are probably the best in those areas. I almost always sub in whole wheat flour for the recipes in any of these books that call for white flour (at least 50% whole wheat) so my kids can get used to understanding how they can do the same.

  45. melynda says:

    Very nice! The education you provide to your children is priceless, thank you.

  46. Teresa says:

    What a great surprise to see this adorable post. I was checking your site to print a recipe this morning and was so delighted to find this. You are the best mom. How lucky your kids are to learn these lifelong cooking skills from the best cook out there. You and your family are such a delight. The recipes look fabulous and the boys did a great job. So sweet!!!

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