Simple meals for kids to cook

We feel like it is important for our kids to be able to cook a few meals on their own before they leave our house for good.  Ideally they will also know how to follow a cookbook, but being able to do a few simple meals from scratch (or with a box) without needing access to the internet or an actual cookbook is a helpful skill that should be useful in all sorts of situations.

What are some of these meals they can and should be able to do?

Our kids can both do:
1. scrambled eggs
2. quesadillas/tacos
3. grilled cheese
4. macaroni and cheese from a box with tuna and peas
5. cold cereal
6. salad

I really ought to teach them how to do spaghetti with meat sauce and onions sometime soon.  If either of them liked chili, that would also be on my list.

My memorized repertoire when I left home also included (along with all of the above): fry-ups, swiss steak, chicken cacciatore, salad dressing baked chicken, and leek and potato soup.  I could also do random things with lipton onions soup packets and cans of various campbells soups.  I haven’t made most of these in years either because they’re not healthy with my PCOS or because the children aren’t crazy about them.

DC1 has been preferring to make desserts from cookbooks.  Along with that, most kids seem to like making cookies.  Although I have some desserts memorized (ex. dump cake), I don’t really have any worth making memorized, so we use recipes.

What simple meals did you make as a kid?  What do your kids make, if applicable?  What other meals do you recommend kids learn how to do before they leave home?


34 Responses to “Simple meals for kids to cook”

  1. Michael N Nitabach Says:

    You learned an impressive repertoire as a kid!!!

      • Matthew Healy Says:

        My longtime standby is what my wife calls “Iterated Soup.” Boil water in automatic tea kettle (love love love cooking appliance that can be ignored). Take pot out of fridge, dump boiling water into remnants, place on stove burner set to low heat. Use stick blender to pureee remnants into stock. Toss in veggies, lentils, canned garbanzos or other canned legumes. Let sit on low heat for a while. Check temp from time to time and adjust burner as needed to keep between about 150F and 170F. After a couple hours plus or minus, taste it. Throw in a few spices. Stir. Taste again. Lather, rinse, repeat until tastes good. Now serve some with toast, cheese, fruit, etc. Put some into smaller pot. Put lids tightly on both pots and cool for a while then put in fridge with lids undisturbed. When smaller pot used up, start serving from main pot until time to iterate again.

  2. yetanotherpfblog Says:

    As a kid, I could make cakes and cookies, smoothies, guac, all the basic egg stuff, salads, Campbell-soup-assisted casseroles, and gyoza from scratch (which by far was my greatest culinary talent). I feel like if a young adult can make a stir fry and use a rice cooker, they’ll at least not starve.

  3. bogart Says:

    Good question. I don’t really remember what I knew how to cook as a young adult (late teenager) and I do remember my diet included some horrible things (Chef Boyardee ravioli, anyone?), but I was definitely capable of preparing my own meals. Not-very-fancy stir fry was a big part of my childhood and certainly on the list (it’s easy!). We also ate these little pizza things we made from English muffins + some kind of tomato sauce + cheese + toppings. I love me a good toasted cheese sandwich.

    Right now, my son makes grilled cheese sandwich (his dad’s preference, and unfortunately MUCH more complicated than the toasted cheese option IMO), occasionally mac-n-cheese, waffles-but-I-manage-the-iron, and helps out a fair amount in the kitchen. We’ve also made oven fried chicken strips a few times together, and as I think about it, oven baked bisquick chicken is so easy and so good, we should add that to the list.

    We have kid cooking camps around us, and he’d earlier expressed an interest but by the time I got around to trying to sign him up his response was, “Mom, I can’t do that! It’ll be all girls!” Maybe I should wait a few years and see if that same feature makes such events appealing…

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I feel like I didn’t really start doing stir-fries until graduate school, but the concept is pretty similar to fry-ups (just less grease and generally no potatoes), so I don’t think I ever used a recipe. That can’t be true though because I remember having a favorite peanut sauce at a store in a nearby city that would get bought out by whole foods.

      I used to really like toast with a layer of sour cream and then brown sugar and cinnamon. (Though I hated sour cream by itself.)

  4. NessieMonster Says:

    Things I learned to make with Mum whilst cooking dinners for 5 as a teen: Spag bol, bangers n mash, toad in the hole, any sort of pasta with some sort of meat & veg-based sauce, shepherd’s pie, fish pie, stir fries, chicken korma, misc. Veg soups (better if there was a recipe to hand), beef stew, quiche, shortcrust pastry, mince pies.

    Deliah Smith’s how to cook part 1 taught me egg-based dishes, bread, and some cakes… Though those kinds of things do need a recipe for exact measurements.

    I guess that is rather a lot! I learned more and became better practised once I moved out of catered halls after first year undergrad. Lots of my standard meals don’t need exact recipes, just roughly the right quantities, and all were relatively flexible on what veg could be included.

  5. M Says:

    To learn: cook rice (pot or rice cooker), cook potatoes (boil or roast or bake)… also pasta I guess… steam veggies (anything, really), fry ground beef or any ground meat. If you can do this, you can eat healthy, cheaply, and with some variety. When I was in high school, I was the go to in my family for making fried rice and risotto, so I had these two somewhat more elaborate recipes memorized and mastered. I feel like when I started cooking in college, shake ‘n’ bake chicken drumsticks was a go-to, in part because my family cooked this often, and it really was pretty cheap and easy to do. Another classic was a roast… throw a chunk of meat into a large dish with potatoes and carrots and maybe some water/stock and flavoring. Pretty easy and efficient.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      one of my grandmother-in-law was able to turn a postroast into something completely inedible…it always boggled my mind how she was able to do that (I would beg DH to cook for her when we visited…)– I’m fairly sure she would crockpot without any acid/salt/spice or flavor of any kind, whereas I’d been taught to throw in tomato sauce or a lipton soup packet or can of campbells something. (I do not do that anymore, but growing up!)

  6. Miser Mom Says:

    M mentioned this in passing, but seriously: how to nuke a potato and make mashed potatoes! When our boys were in their incredible growth spurt, this became their go-to fuel, and kept them out of much unhealthier alternatives. We kept a bowl of raw potatoes on the dining room table for after-school snacks.

    And when you learn to add some simple toppings, these become a variety of interesting meals.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I have definitely spent a good portion of my younger life living on microwaved potatoes with various toppings when cooking just for myself. (Sadly I’m not supposed to eat white potatoes anymore… still, sweet potatoes are good!)

  7. Cloud Says:

    Reading this post made me realize that I have no recollection of when or how I learned to cook as a kid. I have lots of memories of baking as a kid, but none of cooking except for making plain pasta or mac and cheese in high school. And yet, I must have learned a little more than that because I was able to cook when I was in college. Hmmm.

  8. rose Says:

    Full time cooking for family of 5 by age 15. Could follow any recipe, knew by heart the time for cooking lamb, beef, ham, pork, chicken/turkey. Leaving high school any child should have minimum 14 dinners they are comfortable shopping for and making and be fully at ease with several different breakfast, lunch, baked goods. Have cooked all vegetables normally found in common grocery store, understand pastas, potatoes, rice (brown & white), quinoa, be able to prepare eggs in several different ways. Be able to plan and prepare a complete holiday meal . Know and be able to explain what a balanced diet is for themselves so a nutritionist would not get the shudders. Know what and why needs refrigeration. Know the scent/taste/name of several spices/herbs and when to use them & in what quantity.
    They also need to know how to manage their own laundry, sleep habits, study/work skills, know the basics of taxes and insurance and paying bills including balancing check books. Know how to clean a bedroom, kitchen, bathroom themselves. Be able to iron a shirt and sew a button and hem.
    Basics ALL normative children should have learned.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That’s a lot! Fortunately for DH I had all of those skills (except taxes, but DH’s father is an accountant and answered lots of his questions) and was willing to teach him the ones he was missing. (Though we haven’t used an iron since becoming adults…with appropriate purchasing I don’t think they’re necessary anymore.)

  9. First Gen American Says:

    This was on the list of things to do with my 13 year old summer off from camps. He was supposed to learn life skills in lieu of camps including more recipes. We didn’t get as far as planned.

    We had a rule that if the kids want Mac and cheese they had to make it themselves. The older one can do tacos, steak and cheese, spaghetti, guacamole. Both have been making pizzas since they were still in diapers, but I don’t think I’ve ever had them watch the cook time. The first recipe He wanted help with was choc chip cookies.

    I like roses list a lot.

  10. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Ooh I used to also make crepes using 3 eggs 2 cups milk 1 cup flour and then adjust to get the right consistency (also lots of butter)

  11. Debbie M Says:

    I once had a boyfriend who was trying to learn to cook from recipes. “First I had to buy a food processor. …” Yikes. I remember teaching him quesadillas and French toast.

    Fortunately for me, in the seventh grade I had an assignment in home ec to get recipes (8 each in 10 categories or vice versa) and I got all my favorite ones from my mom and filled in the rest from random cookbooks that looked good.

    I don’t remember exactly what I could cook (Mom did virtually all the cooking, happily), but I do remember that I was better than my brother at French toast (he would let the bread soak too long) and he was better than me at pancakes (I could not control the flipping, and they would often land up the side and maybe hanging over the edge of the frying pan).

    But to answer your question, ideally kids would know how to make several main dishes that they really like (like spaghetti, chili, taco soup), several basics they really like (pasta, rice, veggies), something fancy for dates (my current boyfriend fed me something with a pastry topper), something to bring to parties, and maybe a favorite category they want to become an expert in (grilling, bread, soups, etc.), plus all the favorite quick stuff (cereal, sandwiches, eggs).

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I never did master french toast. Maybe I also soak the bread too long(!)

      I do know three different ways of making pork chops including the one my father made for my mother the first time they had a date at his apartment (lemon/butter/garlic). That was to be the fancy for dates dish, I guess. My parties dish was Swedish rose cookies, which is basically a shortbread with a jam thumbprint. Enormously popular.

      You have a really good list of things to know. It’s been interesting watching my sister (who hated cooking as a kid) add those items to her portfolio as an adult.

      • Debbie M Says:

        Or maybe the bread you used for French toast was too fresh or otherwise too soft? Though I normally use ordinary squishy whole wheat sandwich bread that may or may not be fresh. I just put the bread in the bowl of egg, immediately flip it to get the other side wet and then immediately put it in the pan. If you let it sit in the egg bowl while you’re waiting for the previous piece to finish cooking, that’s probably too long (unless it’s the last piece, and there’s not enough egg goo left for it to get too soggy). If you don’t want to wash egg off your hands a million times, you might be able to set them on a plate between soaking and cooking so they don’t keep soaking, but I haven’t tried that.

        Yeah, cooking is not a thing I love, either. But I do love being able to have favorite dishes whenever I want, affordably, and then also being able to make them a little healthier without losing too much deliciousness. Which means I try not to have recipes that depend on some company staying in business.

  12. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Is there a climate strike this week in your area? (Ours is on Friday)

  13. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Every town gun safety just emailed to say “Senate Democrats will hold the Senate floor tonight to demand action on gun safety legislation. Support them by calling your Senators. Urge them to pass stronger gun laws now.”

    Here’s a script:

  14. Anna Says:

    I don’t think I made much in particular beyond forays into a couple of kid cookbooks, a fair amount of dessert-baking, and a lot of microwaved Old El Paso bean and cheese burritos.

    What I’d say is important for kids is not so much what, but how: how to measure, mix, cut, peel, assess doneness, etc. How to put together a reasonably complete meal, how to manage time when making multiple things for the same meal. Give them the how, and they can be confident with any recipe they come across that they want to try.

    Which leads to: encourage them to find a “basic stuff” recipe source with things they like and are interested in. I still make things from a 20-year-old copy of Urvater’s Monday to Friday Cookbook that I bought in undergrad, for example.

  15. SP Says:

    I still don’t have many things that I make without checking the recipe for guidance, although I know the basic method for recipes we typically do on repeat. I don’t think I cooked much growing up, and I honestly have no idea how I survived college / what I ate. It is not possible that I ate out a ton ($), but I don’t remember cooking a lot either.

    • Matthew Healy Says:

      In grad school I ate lots of Ramen and Manischevitz dried soups. I even saw Ramen cooked on a lab Bunsen burner (I did NOT go that far, and it’s a good thing the Safety Inspector didn’t know, but colleagues did).

  16. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    Cooking was complicated as a kid – I could make rice easily, sunny side up eggs, and bake a cake. But then everything was either about prep and putting together an array of fresh ingredients: boiling shrimp, crabs, fresh rice noodles, prepping cold veggies for spring rolls, or complicated cookery. I remember being taught how to make tiny little stovetop savory cakes, the names of which completely escape me, which are a specialty. I wish I remembered how to make them, they were amazing. I also remember making bao, wontons, banana leaf wrapped Lunar New Year desserts but I couldn’t have done them all on my own, it was too big a job.

  17. Link love | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] of cooking and think it’s time your 7 or 8 or older year old learned a few basic skills?  Simple meals for kids to cook.  Also we have a couple favorite cookbooks for […]

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