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5 Italian Dishes Kids Can Make

Kids love to help out in the kitchen and easy Italian dishes will encourage them to do so even more. See more kid-friendly recipe pictures. monkeybusinessimages/Thinkstock

There are scents so timeless -- and so tied to the kitchens of childhood -- that they turn the mind home in an instant: bread baking, steak sizzling, stew simmering, pasta boiling, chocolate melting.

Family mealtime is about so much more than consuming food. It's about leaning in to the life collective. Prepping ingredients peppered with news of the day. Sharing food and learning more about each other. In a family, being food-centric isn't always about the food.

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For that reason, kids shouldn't be left out of the process. Preschoolers can help gather ingredients, while kindergarteners can help measure and pour. First and second-graders can dice, zest, mince and slice with parental supervision (and a primer on safe technique). And as children move into third through sixth grade, they can use basic kitchen tools, such as a can opener or electric mixer, or even the stove, with parental supervision [source: Negrin].

When children are actively involved in whipping up the main course, they're more inclined to eat the end result. So if your children love pizza (who doesn't?), try building on this taste profile with other Italian dishes. We've tested five geared toward pint-sized chefs that are just as much fun to eat as they are to make.

Even the youngest children can squash tomatoes for this pasta sauce. Jupiterimages/Pixland/Thinkstock
Even the youngest children can squash tomatoes for this pasta sauce. Jupiterimages/Pixland/Thinkstock

The great thing about Italian food is that the recipes can be delightfully simple and still incredibly flavorful. Take this fun variation on pasta sauce, for example. This recipe is ideal for children as young as 3 because it doesn't require heat or knives.

Place a dozen cherry tomatoes in a bowl; have your kids squeeze each one until the orbs burst and then tear the fruit into small pieces. Add the juice of two large tomatoes. (An adult can cut the tomatoes in half and the kids can squeeze the juice into the bowl). Next, have the children tear small pieces of basil and chives on top of the mixture. They can do the same with a few black or green olives, if they'd like. Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the top and — voila!— it's a kid-friendly concoction perfect for spooning over pasta [source: BBC Good Food]. Which brings us to the next item on our list.

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Pasta from scratch is very easy to make. wanderluster/iStock/Thinkstock
Pasta from scratch is very easy to make. wanderluster/iStock/Thinkstock

Even if your child is a picky eater, he probably loves pasta. And what better way to engage in some food-centric fun than by whipping up a batch of fresh noodles? Pasta recipes are surprisingly simple and are practically built for fun.

To make a basic pasta recipe, simply mix flour, eggs, milk, olive oil and a pinch of salt until it reaches the consistency of Play-Doh. Children can roll and shape the dough to their hearts' content (which, in recipe terms, is about 20 minutes).

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Don't worry, you don't need a pasta roller or specialized equipment to finish the job. Once the dough is sufficiently elastic, children can use a rolling pin to spread it across a floured surface. Then, let them cut the dough into strips or quirky shapes with a butter knife or pizza wheel. After the pasta has taken shape, adults can step in to boil the pasta for a just a few minutes (perhaps as few as three minutes – cooking time is much less than for the store-bought version).

Toppings can be quick and easy, too. Butter, olive oil or a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese are all kid-friendly options [source: Scattergood]. Or you can use the sauce from the previous page.

Kids will love pullin the strands out of this squash so they look like spaghetti. Brand X Pictures/Stockbyte/Thinkstock
Kids will love pullin the strands out of this squash so they look like spaghetti. Brand X Pictures/Stockbyte/Thinkstock

The recipe is simple but requires the use of an oven, so adults will need to step in and help. Start with a spaghetti squash (these are usually clearly labeled, but if not, just look for a yellow squash with an elongated bell shape). Cut the squash lengthwise so your junior chef can take over and scoop out the seeds. Place each half of the squash, cut side down, on a baking sheet coated with olive oil or cooking spray and bake at 350 degrees F (180 degrees C) for about one hour.

While the squash is baking, kids can prepare a simple pasta sauce using diced tomatoes, a pinch of garlic and a generous amount of fresh basil. Just be sure to supervise children as they cook the sauce on the stovetop at a medium heat.

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When the spaghetti squash finishes baking, let it cool and then have kids tackle the fun part. They'll use a fork to scrape around the outside of the squash and then pull the fork through the squash from the outside to the center to create spaghetti-like strands. Add a bit of salt and pepper, top the squash with pasta sauce and dinner is served [sources: Pittman, Smart].

Children can sprinkle the toppings on these pasta bowls. monkeybusinessimages/Thinkstock
Children can sprinkle the toppings on these pasta bowls. monkeybusinessimages/Thinkstock

Pizza pasta bowls are simple to make and can be customized to suit the palate of each child. Adults, begin by cooking at least one type of pasta (more if you want to offer choices). Meanwhile, junior sous-chefs can prep a variety of toppings, which you can delegate based on age. Very young children can tear basil and spinach leaves, and pull apart olives and pepperoni slices. Older children can shred fresh mozzarella, slice mushrooms and dice green peppers, tomatoes and other toppings.

Place individual toppings in bowls, buffet-style. Then encourage children to move their bowl of pasta through the line, adding as many -- or as few -- toppings as they'd like. For extra fun, kids can pretend to be wait staff by taking orders, and then preparing and delivering pasta dishes to their customers [source: Anderson].

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Italian toasties are a combination between a pizza slice and a submarine sandwich. lat42kahuna/iStock/Thinkstock
Italian toasties are a combination between a pizza slice and a submarine sandwich. lat42kahuna/iStock/Thinkstock

It's the perfect cross between a sandwich and a slice of pizza, and so good your kids will probably ask for seconds. The best part? This recipe for Italian toasties is so easy to make that kids can assemble it themselves.

Start with a loaf of artisanal bread. Nearly any kind will do, but crusty bread with rounded ends works best. Depending on the age of the child who will be doing the assembly, you may want to have an adult cut the loaf lengthwise, leaving it attached at one side. It should open up like a magazine.

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Then, have the kids take over again. Armed with spoons, they'll scrape out the soft insides of the bread loaf and drizzle the loaf's interior with olive oil. After that, they spread a layer of tomato paste over both sides, and add the fillings, which can include sliced ham, olives artichokes, eggplant, mushrooms or other Italian-style toppings. Be sure to add a hefty dose of provolone cheese here and there, as well as a topping of mozzarella. Sprinkle with oregano, salt and pepper, close the sandwich and -- here's the fun part -- let kids use their hands to flatten it. Wrap the sandwich in foil and let the adult transfer the loaf to a 350 degree F (180 degree C) oven. In 30 minutes, you'll all be rewarded with a real crowd-pleaser. The adult should unwrap and slice the sandwich into six servings [source: BBC Good Food].

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Author's Note: 5 Italian Dishes Kids Can Make

I'm a proponent of keeping kids busy in the kitchen. As a child, my mother taught me to cook and bake at an early age -- and it was more than just a way to keep me from being underfoot. Long before it was part of a classroom curriculum, I learned basic math skills at home by scaling recipes, including a working knowledge of fractions. It's an interactive way to engage, and one I hope my children will pick up on. I'll admit, some of the my children are more interested in culinary skills than others, but they all like to eat!

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Sources

  • Anderson, Amy. "Kids in the Kitchen: Made-to-Order Pizza Pasta Bowls." Make and Takes. May 7, 2014. (May 9, 2014) http://www.makeandtakes.com/kids-kitchen-made-order-pizza-pasta-bowls
  • BBC Good Food. "Italian Toasties." June 2010. (May 9, 2014) http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/558627/italian-toasties
  • BBC Good Food. "Squished Tomato Pasta Sauce." (May 9, 2014) http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/681650/squished-tomato-pasta-sauce
  • Negrin, Julie. "How to Safely Include Kids in the Kitchen." Food Network. (May 9, 2014) http://www.foodnetwork.com/how-to/articles/how-to-safely-include-kids-in-the-kitchen.html
  • Pittman, Ann Taylor. "A Kid in the Kitchen: Spaghetti Squash." Cooking Light. April 2012. (May 9, 2014) http://www.cookinglight.com/food/matisse-reid-spaghetti-squash-00412000074766/
  • Scattergood, Amy. "Homemade Pasta, a Perfect Cooking Project for Kids." LA Times. Oct. 22, 2008. (May 9, 2014) http://www.latimes.com/style/la-fo-kidpasta22-2008oct22-story.html
  • Smart, Marcia Whyte. "Spaghetti Squash with Tomato-Basil Sauce Recipe." My Recipes. April 2012. (May 9, 2014) http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/spaghetti-squash-tomato-basil-50400000120179/

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