If your kids have worked with Play-Doh, they already have experience that can help in the kitchen. Rolling and shaping the clay? Your three- or four-year old is basically handling pasta dough and rolling it out. Twin Cities chef and Saint Paul College Culinary Arts instructor Jason Ross, who also has two daughters, knows this, so he created these kid-friendly recipes for Real Food.
For Fresh Pasta with Peas and Bacon, kids can use their Play-Doh skills for the pasta, and depending on their age, they can also help cut the dough with cookie cutters, a pizza cutter, or plastic knives. Naturally, making your own fresh pasta takes more time than opening a box of dry noodles, but it’s a great way to get kids involved in the kitchen and when you’re done, both kids and adults can enjoy the fruits of their labor with the delicious meal.
You can also try giving the classic macaroni and cheese meal a twist with the Baked Mac ’n’ Cheese Bites. Kids can help roll the macaroni into balls and coat them with bread crumbs for this crunchy variation on the theme. Plus, you can use your bread crumbs in his recipe for Oven “Fried” Chicken Tenders.
While cooking with a child might take a little extra effort, we can all appreciate learning something new and making a meal together that doesn’t come from a box or the freezer. For more tips and tricks on cooking with kids, check out Ross’ age-appropriate task guidelines here.
Fresh Pasta with Peas and Bacon
Makes 4 servings
Young kids may need some help kneading, but the emphasis is on fun: mixing, punching, pounding, and rolling the dough. If available, let your little helper assist in shucking the peas.
4½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon oil
2 slices bacon, cut into ¼-inch strips
1 pound unshelled English peas (or 1 cup frozen peas)
1 tablespoon butter
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
For the Pasta
- Place flour in center of a large mixing bowl, making a mound with a hollow center.
- Crack eggs into a small bowl and add a pinch salt and oil. Pour into hollowed center in flour mound.
- Use a fork to whisk eggs. Incorporate flour into mixture until a loose dough begins to form. Finish forming dough using hands.
- Sprinkle a clean work surface, such as a countertop or cutting board, with some flour. Take turns kneading dough 10 to 15 minutes, until smooth and elastic without dimples or ripples. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or up to 6 hours.
- Remove dough from plastic wrap and cut into 4 pieces. Lightly flour a work surface. You and your helper each take a piece and rewrap the other two. Work dough with your hands to form a 1-inch-thick oval disc.
- Using a rolling pin, roll out dough into a 1/8-inch-thick sheet, sprinkling with flour as needed to prevent sticking.
- Let kids help cut pasta into various shapes using a pizza cutter or cookie cutters. Place pasta on a lightly floured baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough.
For the Peas and Cooking Pasta
- Bring a large pot of water with a generous pinch of salt to a boil.
- Meanwhile, crisp bacon in a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Pour out excess fat and add peas, butter, and a small pinch salt. Cook over medium heat 2 minutes, just long enough to warm peas.
- Turn off heat and let peas and bacon warm in pan while pasta cooks.
- When water is boiling, add pasta and stir to prevent sticking. Cook 3 to 12 minutes depending on pasta shape and size, until soft and pliable. Test for doneness by cutting 1 pasta piece with a knife. Pasta is done when there is no raw dough in center.
- Drain pasta into a colander and serve warm topped with peas and crumbled bacon. Sprinkle with Parmesan to finish.
Baked Mac ’n’ Cheese Bites
Makes 4 servings
It’s no secret: Kids love mac ’n’ cheese. This recipe takes a food favorite and lets children get their hands on it, rolling it into balls and breading. Then it’s a short trip in the oven for some bite-size mac ’n’ cheese.
½ pound macaroni
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
½ pound mild cheddar or Colby Jack cheese, shredded
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups bread crumbs
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook macaroni, drain, and rinse in cold water. Place in a large mixing bowl and set aside.
- In a medium to large saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter, taking care not to let it brown.
- Add flour, using a whisk to combine with butter. Cook 2 minutes, again taking care not to let it brown.
- Gradually pour in milk, whisking. Reduce heat and simmer gently 5 minutes.
- Remove from heat and whisk in cheese and ½ cup Parmesan until melted.
- Pour cheese sauce over macaroni, stirring to coat.
- Refrigerate in a shallow pan 1 to 2 hours, until fully chilled. Mac ’n’ cheese can be refrigerated in a sealed container up to 7 days.
Breading and Baking
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Let kids help roll cooled mac ’n’ cheese into golf-ball-size balls, compacting to ensure they don’t fall apart.
- Melt remaining 4 tablespoons butter. In a medium bowl, combine with 1 tablespoon Parmesan, teaspoon of salt and bread crumbs.
- Coat macaroni in breading mixture and place on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake 12 to 15 minutes, until warm, crispy and golden brown.
- Serve warm but not hot enough to burn little fingers and mouths.
Nutrition info (per serving)
• Fresh Pasta with Peas and Bacon: Calories 745 (156 From Fat); Fat 18g (Sat. 7g); Chol 252mg; Sodium 273mg; Carb 115g; Fiber 6g; Protein 29g
• Baked Mac ’N’ Cheese Bites: Calories 915 (398 From Fat); Fat 45g (Sat. 26g); Chol 120mg; Sodium 1374mg; Carb 88g; Fiber 5g; Protein 38g