Cooking with Pre-schoolers

Cooking with children is so rewarding for you and for your little one as they embrace new foods they may not have wanted to try and gain more self confidence with the responsibility and satisfaction of being the one to make their own food.  Cooking with pre-schoolers was at first, for me, a really bad idea.  I was still trying to get things ready as flour was poured all over the table and total culinary chaos ensued.  After beginning to do cooking classes with Kids Pantry I have a much more successful and less chaotic approach.  Preparation.  Patience.  Portions.  If you have a child who happily heads off and plays by themselves, that's golden, if not make sure you set your child up with something they aren't going to get into too much of a mess with while you prepare everything.
Get out as many small bowls as you can to put ingredients into individually.  If there are a bunch of wet components that you can mix together that require whisking then do that during preparation time ie melt butter and mix into milk with eggs to be poured into dry ingredients and mixed by your child.
The process of cooking is rewarding for your child if they can do it with as little intervention from you as possible.  So make their jobs achievable.  Once everything is prepared your child should have the skills to with limited or no assistance
  1.  taste the ingredient,
  2.  pour it into the main mixing bowl, 
  3. cut up something easy to cut with a child safe knife, safety knife
  4. mix together and
  5. pour into tin, cake moulds, spoon onto baking paper, roll into a ball and squash with a spoon.
I still go to these classes because the teachers are inspirational, endlessly patient.  Don't forget to get them to wash hands before and after cooking.  It's never too early to give them some task so they feel they're helping clean up afterwards.

Tip:  find a recipe you don't need to whisk too much and can be successful with by just adding one at a time into a single bowl without creaming, whisking to peaks or rubbing together until it resembles bread crumbs.

  1. Mini Leek Tarts 
  2. Short Crust Pastry
  3. Chocolate Cookies
  4. Anzac Biscuits
  5. Shortbread (Melting Moments)
  6. Mixed Bean Soup
  7. Double Chocolate Biscuits  
  8. Vanilla, Pear and Ricotta Cake 
  9. Butter Biscuits 
  10. Rustic Vegetable and Beef Pie 
  11. Birthday Cake for Dogs 
  12. Scones with jam and cream 

Mini Leek tarts (low salicylate)

Note: These are great to make with any combination of filling. Leek and cabbage, bacon, smoked salmon, fetta.

This one takes a fair bit of preparation, make the short crust pastry and saute the leek before inviting your toddler or preschooler to join in unless you have some other jobs for them to do in the kitchen while you do this part.

Short Crust Pastry Ingredients

2 cups (250g) plain flour
1 pinch salt, to taste
125g butter, cut into pieces
1 egg
2 tbsp water or more if needed

1 large or two small leeks
2 rashers of bacon (finey chopped)
or 3 slices of smoked salmon
or quarter of chinese cabbage (finely sliced)
2 tbsp unsalted butter

Egg Custard
4 large eggs
1/4 cup cream

1. rub the butter into flour and salt using finger tips until they resemble bread crumbs.
2. crack the egg straight from the fridge into your mixture, add chilled water and bring together with a fork and then roll into a ball by hand.
3. Cover the bowl and put it in the freezer while you prepare the filling and egg mixture.

4. Slice leek and any other filling you need to cook.
5. Add butter to the fry pan, then leek and bacon or cabbage. Once starting to brown, looking translucent and golden it's ready to put in a container to be spooned into tin by your preschooler(s).
6. Crack eggs into the number of bowls you have or leave for your child to do.

1. Preheat oven to 160 degrees. Children must wash hands thoroughly before starting.
2. The dough is ready to be cut into a large tablespoon size to be rolled into a ball and then pinched out into a circle, rolled with a child sized rolling pin or pressed straight into the mini muffin tin. It needs to be pressed in this enough to cook through.
3. Get your child to spoon a teaspoon or two of the filling into each muffin mould. If you are adding fetta have your child pull it apart with their fingers and add to the tin at this point.
4. Then it's time to either crack the eggs or go straight to whisking them together with the cream.
5. Spoon the egg custard mixture into the moulds until it covers the filling.
6. Place in the oven and cook for approximately 15 - 20 minutes or until the egg has cooked through and pastry is golden brown.

enjoy! These are still delicious the next day.

Recipe One: This is not the best recipe to start with but it was a really tasty one. It violates the one and only tip in the Cooking with Children post.

Chocolate cookies

250 g plain flour, sifted
40 g cocoa, sifted
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
200 g sugar
100 g butter (room temperature)
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla essence
2 eggs
150 g roasted almonds, chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
2. Mix the butter and sugar together using a mixer until smooth.
3. Gradually add the eggs while mixing. Set aside to divide up for your children.
4. Add the vanilla essence, flour, bicarbonate of soda and cocoa. These should all be in individual portions for your child to add themselves.
5. Mix using a tablespoon or wooden spoon until the mixture forms a soft dough.
6. Take spoonfuls of the mixture and form into balls.
7. Dip each ball in the chopped almonds and place it on a greased oven tray.
8. Bake for 15 minutes and leave to cool on a wire rack.

Chewy Anzac biscuits

Makes about 24


1 cup (150g) plain flour
1 cup (90g) rolled oats
1 cup (85g) desiccated coconut
2/3 cup (155g) brown sugar
125g butter
2 tbs golden syrup
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tbs water


1. Get out 4 small bowls multiply by the number of children. One large mixing bowl and tablespoon per child.
2. put the divided quantities of oats, plain flour, coconut and brown sugar into the bowls.
3. Preheat the oven to 160°C.
4. Line two baking trays with non-stick baking paper. Put the butter, golden syrup and 2 tbs water in a small saucepan. Stir over a medium heat until melted.
5. It's time to get your children to put on their aprons and wash their hands. Place their bowls at their spot on the table.


1. Get your child to sift the flour into their large bowl.
2. They can now pour in the oats, coconut and brown sugar and stir.
3. The melted butter and golden syrup should still be warm, give it a little more heat if it has gone cold. Stir in the bicarbonate of soda. This is fun to watch if you can be bothered doing it so your children can watch.
5. Pour the butter mixture into the flour mixture and get them to stir until combined.
6. Roll level tablespoons of mixture into balls. Place on the trays, about 5cm apart.
7. Press with a fork to flatten slightly. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown.
8. Set aside on the trays for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack so it cools completely. I don't have a wire rack so I just slide the baking paper onto the counter top.

Science (Chemical Reaction)

The bi-carb soda (sodium bicarbonate) reacts with the hot sugar mixture to form bubbles of carbon dioxide. This is a chemical reaction.
In a chemical reaction, the reactants (substance that is consumed in the course of the chemical reaction) are chemically rearranged to give products with different chemical and physical properties.
Bicarbonate of soda is a weak base that decomposes when heated or on reaction with an acid (such as vinegar), producing carbon dioxide gas.
In the case of the anzac biscuit butter and golden syrup mixture, sodium bicarbonate is decomposing with the heat and is producing carbon dioxide. The chemical formula of this reaction looks like this:

2NaHCO3 --> Na2CO3 + CO2 + H2O

As with the vinegar and bi-carb soda experiment the sodium bicarbonate is breaking down into sodium carbonate, carbon dioxide and water.

Shortbread (Melting Moments)

This is a perfect recipe to make melting moments with, this shortbread will melt in your mouth.

2 cups of plain flour
2 tblsp rice flour
250g butter
1⁄2 cup of castor sugar


1. Get out 4 small bowls, multiply by the number of children and divide ingredients between them. One large mixing bowl and rolling pin per child.
2. put the divided quantities of plain flour, rice flour, butter and castor sugar into the bowls.
3. Preheat the oven to 160°C.
4. Line two baking trays with non-stick baking paper.
5. If you are making melting moments prepare the piping bag. Place your piping tip into the bag, place entire bag into a cup and fold excess bag over the edge of the cup, this prevents the problem of having batter, dough, whatever getting stuck to the sides of the bag, it will also make it easier for your child to spoon the mixture into the bag. Multiply number of prepared bags by number of children.
6. It's time to get your children to put on their aprons and wash their hands. Place their bowls at their spot on the table. Clean hands and put on aprons.


1. Get your child to sift the castor sugar, plain flour and rice flour into their large bowl.
2. Get them to add the softened butter and work it in using their hands. This might take some time and should combine to a very soft and malleable dough.
3. If you are going to pipe them onto the tray you can take the opportunity to finish working the dough together if your child's hands have gotten too tired to combine it properly. Otherwise you can get them to go and wash hands and cut themselves a nice big piece of baking paper to roll their dough out with while you finish combining ingredients. This might not be an issue with your children but mine want complete ownership of their cooking project.
5. If you are making melting moments and using a piping bag, just get your child to pipe small amounts onto the baking paper, leaving approximately 1.5cm between each biscuit. Otherwise you can get your child to roll the mixture out to approximately 1.5cm thick and use cookie cutters to create their biscuits. My favourite option is to roll portions of the dough into a log and cut with a knife. You can place them on the baking paper and squash them down leaving them no smaller than 1.5cm thick with a diameter of approx 1-2cm.
6. Place in the oven for between 10 and 20 minutes. I prefer to take them out when they are just starting to brown around the bottom but a beautiful white across the top.
7. Set aside on the trays for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack so it cools completely. I don't have a wire rack so I just slide the baking paper onto the counter top.

Melting Moments filling:
(I am using vanilla beans instead of passion fruit or lemon because I try to avoid salicylates)

vanilla bean
150ml thickened cream
1 cup icing sugar

Slice the vanilla bean and peel open, scrape your knife across to get all the seeds and place into your bowl.
Pour in the cream and combine. Sift in the icing sugar and whisk until thick and fluffy.
Spoon the filling into a piping bag and sandwich two of the shortbread biscuits together using a nice squeeze of filling.

Mixed Bean Soup

2 just ripe tomatoes
3 cloves garlic
1 large carrot
1 bunch bok choy
splash soy sauce
mixed bean soup mix
1 lt water
2 tbsp canola oil

finely dice garlic.  Dice the carrot and tomato into small cubes.  Slice the stalks of the bok choy and place green leafy portion aside.

Heat the oil in a large pan and add the garlic.  Whilst sizzling splash in the soy sauce.  Stir and then add the tomato, carrot and bok choy stalks.  Add the water and allow to come to the boil before pouring in approx 200 gms of bean soup mix.

Allow to come to the boil again with the lid off.  Then add the lid, reduce to simmer and allow to cook for between one and two hours.

thinly slice the bok choy leaves and add five minutes before serving.

This is a low salicylate meal, use only just ripe tomatoes and it seems the cooking time has a part in degrading the salicylates.  Served here with thinly sliced corned beef.

Double Chocolate Biscuits

150 gm butter at room temperature
1/2 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup loosely packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 egg
1/2 cup choc chips
1 3/4 plain flour
2 tsp baking powder

prepare two trays with baking paper and preheat oven to 180°C.  This was a good low preparation recipe.

Allow your little person to cut the butter into cubes and add it to the mixing bowl.  After measuring sugar allow them to pour it into the mixing bowl.  I have two children so one for castor and the other can add the brown sugar.  Pour a small amount of vanilla essence into the cap and allow them to pour it into the mixing bowl, reduce the amount per cap and multiply this task by the number of children.  It is then time to cream the butter, sugar and vanilla essence.  I hate the amount of splatter so always use a fork to press the sugar into the butter before using an electric mixer.  For me the mixer is just too accident and mess prone for creaming butter and sugar so that is not a job for my young two.  Pressing the sugar into the butter however is a good task to share around and gives them a chance to use their muscles.  Cream the mixture until most of the sugar is dissolved.

Add the egg and beat until combined.  Add the choc chips and use a wooden spoon to mix together.  Ina seperate bowl sift the flour, baking powder and cocoa together.  Add to the butter mixture and combine well with a tablespoon.

Pass tablespoon sized chunks to children to roll into balls and place about 3cm apart on the tray.  This should fit about 8 or 9 per tray.

Bake for approximately 15 minutes and remove from oven to cool.  Repeat until the batter is finished if you were able to resist eating it.

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