I have a serious chef in my house. He’s only nine years old, but the boy can cook! When I see a natural motivation like this in one of my children, I make sure there are plenty of opportunities to foster its growth. So…he cooks. Because our goal is to have healthy kids in the kitchen, he cooks healthfully (most of the time.)
I allow him to experiment with ingredients as often as I insist that he follows a recipe. I allow him to do as much of the chopping and stove work as he’s ready to handle. He’s just so darn cute standing on his stool while doing the truly serious work of a real chef.
He’s been my kitchen helper since he was old enough to sit in a Boppy chair. All that side-by-side work proved to teach him not only a love for cooking, but all the safety precautions and general knowledge about food prep are second nature to him. Because we’re already way beyond basic cooking classes, he’s been transitioning from my helper to completing recipes mostly on his own for quite some time now.
Why Healthy Foods?
Over the past two years, our family has been making some major shifts in our food and drink lifestyle. I’ll write more about that one of these day, but suffice it to say for now that a gluten-free, low dairy, low sugar menu has drastically turned around the health of three of our family of five.
Eli (the chef) used to be very sick every spring and fall with respiratory issues that found him on antibiotics, inhalers, nebulizers, allergy meds, eye drops, nose sprays and more. During dry months of the year his skin resembled that of an itchy chicken. Fatigue and belly pain lingered frequently.
Since being gluten-free, mostly dairy free, and low sugar, he has not been majorly sick one time during the spring or fall seasons. His skin has been supple in the driest of climates. He has much more energy and I don’t hear belly complaints any longer. I’m not a doctor – although we see an integrative doc who suggested many of these changes – but the proof for us in in the health changes for Eli (as well as his sister and me.)
This is why our kitchen is mostly full of whole foods that rely heavily on veggies, fruits, healthy fats and healthy proteins. We still eat carbs, some processed food, and more sugar than I care to admit, but we’re consistently making better choices. At any rate, since our health has been so drastically changed by eating healthier, it’s of utmost importance to me that my children learn to cook healthfully. (You might be interested to know we have been msg-free for almost 20 years and mostly artificial color/flavor/preservative-free for nearly that long. M&M’s get me every time, though.)
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Even though Eli is in the 4th grade, he and I still enjoy reading picture books together here and there. While we certainly don’t read a book to kick-start all his cooking ventures, these are some much-loved books we have on our shelves that inspire chefs of all ages. To go-along with each book, I’ve included a (mostly) healthy recipe that Eli has prepared in the past.
Safety first! Please don’t turn your child loose with any of these recipes. Even though Eli is pretty serious about cooking and somewhat experienced, I’m still the kitchen supervisor. I look over each and every recipe and decide what he can handle by himself and what he needs help with before we even begin gathering ingredients.
I hope your entire family enjoys the “fruits” from these healthy kids in the kitchen projects!
Healthy Kids in the Kitchen Books
Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey
Blueberry Green Smoothie – Blueberries, bananas and greens are the staples that make this versatile smoothie an easy favorite for Eli to blend together. P.S. I love my Vitamix Blender. Yes, it was expensive, but its performance is unrivaled. We use ours all the time considering most of our food is prepared from scratch.
Chicken Sunday by Patricia Polacco
Roasted Chicken Dinner – While a roasted chicken dinner may seem a bit much for children to prepare, there really isn’t much to it once you teach children how to clean a chicken and safely cut up veggies.
The Duchess Bakes a Cake by Virginia Kahl
Carrot Cake Cupcakes – If your family is used to very sugary treats, these cupcakes will take a little getting used to. They use almond flour which pretty easy to find these days. I buy ours at Trader Joe’s or a local grocery co-op that offers bulk health foods.
Everybody Cooks Rice by Norah Dooley
Madame Blue’s Rice and Beans – You probably have everything you need for this recipe on your shelves right now!
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
Johnny Appleseed by Reeve Lindbergh
Little Nino’s Pizzeria by Karen Barbour
Pizza – This is the best gluten-free pizza crust we’ve found so far. Add whatever healthy toppings you like. We don’t do tons of recipes using gluten-free flours, but this gluten-free flour (that I buy it from Costco to save a nice chunk of money) works well for any one-to-one all-purpose flour substitute.
Pancakes, Pancakes by Eric Carle
Oatmeal Pancakes – These pancakes can be eaten for breakfast, but also make a good treat since they have some sugar in them. The recipe uses two “odd” flours – brown rice and tapioca. You can likely find them at a large grocery store, but I buy them inexpensively at our local grocery co-op in the bulk food section. Also, any milk would work if you prefer a dairy-free recipe. (Rice milk is yet another thing we make easily in the Vitamix Blender.)
The Popcorn Book by Tomie de Paola
Pumpkin Runner by Marsha Diane Arnold
Rechenka’s Eggs by Patricia Polacco
Deviled Eggs – Eli loves making deviled eggs – especially when I let him place the yolk mixture in a plastic bag, cut the corner off the bag, and pipe the yolk into the eggs.
Stone Soup by Marcia Brown
Vegetable Soup – This recipe makes a very basic veggie soup. Feel free to add or subtract ingredients based on what’s in your pantry. Look in the fridge for leftovers to include, too.
Strega Nona by Tomie de Paola
Spaghetti and Meatballs – Spaghetti squash is one of our new favorites and it’s packed with nutrition. If your children don’t like spaghetti squash, you can use gluten-free spaghetti noodles instead.
Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens
Make a yummy salad with all your favorite ingredients. Eli has become a master at building a colorful salad! (We try to buy organic veggies and fruits as much as possible, especially when purchasing the dirty dozen.)
Tortilla Factory by Gary Paulson
Chicken Enchilada Casserole – While the book is very simple, the recipe is much more involved. Not too involved for a seasoned little cook, though. (This is a recipe where we DO include cheese because it just wouldn’t be nearly as good. For us, it seems that as long as dairy is a treat rather than a daily food group, we’re okay.)
The Wolf’s Chicken Stew by Keiko Kasza
Chocolate Chip Cookies – Sometimes, you just need an unhealthy chocolate chip cookie! Again, we use the gluten-free flour blend from Costco mentioned above.
P.S. Eli loves to wear his “professional” apron his sister bought him for Christmas last year. If you have a budding chef in your house, an apron makes a great Christmas or birthday gift. I’m pretty sure he would appreciate his own kid-sized set of utensils and a chef’s hat, too. Maybe for Christmas this year…
I’d love to hear about other books you’ve used to inspire your kids in the kitchen. I’d also love to hear about your journey to healthier food if you have a story to share!