From the time my boys were old enough to walk, they wanted to "help" me in the kitchen, but I struggled to find ways for them to do so without making a giant mess. I really wish something like the new kids cookbook, Busy Little Hands: Food Play!, existed back then. The kid-friendly, no-cook recipes that let little ones do the bulk of the work independently would have been an absolute godsend for my frustrated former self.
From mom of three, writer, and recipe developer Amy Palanjian, Busy Little Hands: Food Play! is filled to the brim with recipes for budding chefs and picky preschoolers alike to help kids get excited about food. The best part is that even young kids can make these no-cook recipes entirely on their own — no worrying about hot stoves or ovens. With just a bit of prep-work from a grown-up, each recipe features step-by-step photo instructions that kids can follow along with to whip up their very own kitchen creations.
I don't know about you, but having a 3-year-old help me in the kitchen is one of the most stressful things I can think of. When my boys were younger, it was hard for me to let them help in the kitchen all that much for fear of them staining their clothes with bright red pasta sauce splatters, grabbing a hot pan of cookies bare-handed, or sloshing the entire contents of a mixing bowl full of cake batter all over the floor. I wish this cookbook existed during their "I do it, Mommy!" preschool years.
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The book begins with a quick reminder to always start cooking with clean hands, followed by tips to make food fun that encourage kids to feel and taste their food and share it with their loved ones, before jumping into 22 easy-to-follow recipes. Each recipe for breakfast, lunch, drinks, and snacks features nutritious, kid-friendly ingredients — most of which you probably already have at home — that come together simply, but are so much fun for kids to make themselves. From breakfast bon-bons to noodle bowls, macaroni salad, smoothies, and more, each recipe lets kids at least try to put together their own meal.
If you're worried about whether or not your picky preschooler will actually eat the foods included in the book, fear not — Palanjian planned for that. For each recipe, the ingredient options listed allow kids to tailor the dish to their liking. For example, in the recipe for Silly Spiral Sandwiches, options like nut butter, jam, avocado, cream cheese, and hummus are all pictured. Then, the instructions invite kids to choose which toppings they like best when assembling their sandwich.
What I've witnessed with my own kids, and what I'm sure many parents can also attest to, is that when I let them make their own food, they're much more likely to actually eat it. Allowing kids to make their own recipes and choose their own ingredients can also help them get excited about trying new foods. Suddenly, that diced avocado doesn't look so scary when it's offered up as a make-your-own taco topping.
The book also features a list of handy kid-sized cooking tools to keep on hand to help make cooking easier for little hands and encourage them to make these recipes independently. Tips for good table manners, and helpful instructions for cleaning up are also welcome tidbits found at the back of the book to help give kids a well-rounded, comprehensive kitchen experience.
Busy Little Hands: Food Play! is a fun tool you can add to your parenting toolbox that can hopefully take away a bit of the stress that normally comes with cooking with kids. The delicious treats your kids get to whip up and enjoy are merely a bonus.