The Kitchen is Open! Cooking with Kids During Distance Learning

Like much of the world, Villa di Maria has made the decision to close our doors for the rest of the school year in the effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. We are heartbroken to be away from our families for the next few months, but we are also so proud of how our community has come together in the face of this challenge. In collaboration with our parents, Villa di Maria guides and staff have worked every day to keep our children connected and motivated through our distance learning programs.

One of my favorite things about our distance learning programs is that they include something VdM children love to do—working in the kitchen! On campus our children work in the Children’s House to prepare snack and bake bread or biscuits, and Elementary children plan, shop for and prepare meals each week. Preparing food and cooking for their classmates fortifies our children’s sense of community—it gives them a sense of pride and belonging.

And there others benefits. Cooking gives children a chance to practice reading, grow their vocabularies and develop measurement and math skills. It teaches sequencing and order; builds gross and fine motor skills; engages the senses; promotes creativity and attention to detail; and develops time-management and organizational skills. Children who cook are more likely to try new foods and eat more balanced diets. And last but not least, cooking is fun!

In today’s post, we’ll share ideas from our distance learning programs (and beyond) to get children in the kitchen!

Video Tutorials

During distance learning, our youngest children have been baking with the video guidance of our Children’s House guides. Children have access to two (and more to come!) video tutorials: one for baking bread and one for making pasta from scratch (links to the recipes can be found at the bottom of this post). In each video, a guide leads the children through the process, step-by-step.

Two P1 students watching Mrs. McAuley’s bread-baking video
P3 student and his brother making pasta with the help of Ms. Braud’s video

Video tutorials are especially suited to young children who haven’t started to read and are great for anyone who benefits from visual learning. Streaming services and YouTube are filled with cooking and baking shows for all ages. Here’s a short list of videos that offer cooking instruction and inspiration:

  • Charli’s Crafty Kitchen is hosted by tween chef Charli Kelly and features all sorts of fun recipes for getting creative in the kitchen.
  • Cook with Amber is a cooking show all about eating healthfully, hosted by the now-teenaged Amber Kelley.
  • Cooking with Kids is hosted by Jamie Oliver and his son Buddy. It has great, simple and delicious recipes for everyday food.
  • FullTimeKid by PBS Parents has fun videos for making treats, as well as ideas for crafts and other activities.
  • Hoopla Recipes is a great YouTube channel for kids who love to bake and decorate cakes.
  • MasterChef Junior is a competition show for ages 8 through 13. It’s a great source of inspiration and entertainment. You can find it on Hulu.
  • Nailed It is a fan-favorite of many kids and adults for inspiration and hilarious entertainment. Adults compete to recreate fancy desserts and usually come up short. You can find it on Netflix.

Cookbooks

For a break from screens, introduce your child to cookbooks. Cooking while following a written recipe is a great way to slow down and practice reading and following directions. Click here for a good list of cookbooks written just for kids but don’t be afraid to explore cookbooks of all types and discover new foods. Or break out your grandmother’s old recipe cards—you and your child will connect to tradition and history while also creating a delicious meal.

Cooking Challenges

During distance learning, our Elementary students have been participating in a weekly “UE Chopped Challenge” hosted by Upper Elementary Assistant Justin Shepard. Each week, Justin challenges the participants to create and prepare a recipe using three mystery ingredients. The students are encouraged to express their creativity in designing their own unique culinary inventions. After the student-chefs create their recipes, they record the reactions of their family members in a short video to share with the class. To recreate this fun at home, come up with the challenge ingredients for your child to cook, have her record your reactions and share the videos with family and friends. To get you started, you can use last week’s UE Chopped Challenge ingredients: cocoa powder, banana and avocado. And you can find more inspiration by watching Chopped Junior on the Food Network.

UE student preparing avocado buttercream for the Chopped Challenge
Avocado buttercream!

Meal Kit & Cooking Box Subscriptions

Meal kit subscription boxes don’t have to be just for adults. A meal kit can be a great family activity and a way to introduce new foods to children. They also offer another opportunity to practice those reading and sequencing skills.

There are also several subscriptions out there designed just for kid-chefs—cooking kits that introduce kids to new foods and help them develop their skills in the kitchen:

  • America’s Test Kitchen’s Young Chef’s Club offers monthly recipes, activities and experiments as well as access to an online library of videos and activities.
  • Baketivity is a great choice for kids (and parents) who love to bake and decorate treats. You can order just one box or subscribe.
  • Foodstirs is all about baking treats using lower sugar and all natural (and fun!) ingredients. There are kits every other month for festive treats like cookies, donuts and cakes. An adult sous-chef might be required for this one.
  • Kidstir has monthly boxes with fun, themed recipes, puzzles and games. Kids build a cookbook out of their favorite recipes using Kidstir’s recipe cards and binder.
  • Raddish Kids offers seasonal, global and holiday themed kits each month, and each box includes three recipes, a cooking tool, three specific skill lessons and a creative kitchen craft project.

Food Journals

Last but not least, for kids who love to cook—and eat!—there’s food journals. Encourage your child to record her favorite recipes and make notes on the finished products. She can also write reviews, complete with star ratings, of family meals. Not only will the journal-keeping offer an opportunity to practice writing and encourage critical thinking and creative expression, your family will gain a lovely record of your child’s early culinary explorations.

Recipes and resources:

Ms. Braud’s Homemade Pasta Recipe

Mrs. McAuley’s Homemade Bread Recipe

A Chart of Cooking Skills and Recipes by Age

Fiction Books for Elementary Foodies

Picture Books for Younger Foodies

Thank you to the Andre Zheng, Guerriero, Ott, Smith and Steinman families for sharing their photos.