The Cook Box: Mixing Up Fun With Children

by Tricia H on January 27, 2011

“Oooo, how about this blueberry muffin mix?” eight-year-old asks the morning we’re snowed in. The cook box is open, its contents spread on the floor – cake, muffin, cookie mixes of all shapes and sizes. We decide on the blueberry and the apple cinnamon muffins for breakfast.

For Christmas the past two years, Nana gave this inspiration. A gift for the girls that jump started a cooking fun habit for the whole family.

It’s a simple printer paper box with its lid. But it’s what is inside that makes all the difference. Open and see it filled with mixes and toppings. But most importantly, all kinds of sprinkles.

The contents make it easy for me to say yes. They offer practice for the children in many areas as I described in my first post on our cook box.

Here’s a quick skill check list:

  1. math – measuring, as well as calculating quantity for our family of seven
  2. figuring the equivalent egg substitute so that Lil’ Buddy can participate
  3. learning to use the mixer and oven
  4. safety skills – don’t get burned!
  5. cleanliness – wash hands first!
  6. a good cook always cleans up the mess
  7. donning an apron is fun
  8. Mama will say yes when it’s easy

We have the ingredients on hand, all in one place, ready to stir up.

(Stirring up homemade hot chocolate mix, above)

Mix up some memories! Each time I draw up a meal plan, I look for spots I can include the children in the baking and cooking. I call this list Cooking Fun and place it prominently at the top of my meal plan. See, I need these prompts. The children enjoy the spontaneity. I must seize the opportunity to teach, enjoy my children and allow them to be part of the action

But, of course, decorating and eating is the best part! It’s no wonder the youngest girl declares that when she grows up she “will be the queen of cupcakes and all things sweet!”

A side benefit is that a child can open the box and mix up some biscuits to go with our meal. Stirring right alongside me. They get to choose and see the results.

The cook box was just the start. Now they help plan menus, sometimes coming up with themes to match our studies. Next we starting adding our homemade mixes to the mix. We see what type of Sunbutter® recipe we can make this week. All of the children have an acute awareness of our household food allergies, each one critical of ingredients and substitutes. Because of the allergies, we’re always looking for a new variation.

So much so that our cooking fun habit was featured on the Sunbutter® blog. Above, the children are taste testing after mixing up Southern Plate’s recipe for Peanut Butter Balls, substituting our beloved Sunbutter®. Click Sunbutter® Balls with Homeschooled Kids for the recipe!

Guess what else has happened? My older children can glance at the menu plan, gather ingredients and toss them in the slow cooker. No standing and stirring necessary.

Would you like to put together a cook box? Like me, you’ll be folding your children into the mix rather than shooing them away when hungry time comes.

Keep an eye out for boxed mixes and toppings on sale. Stock up. There’s really no particular recipe or guideline for ours. It’s a Hodgepodge of all kinds of mixes. Fix one up for your family. Store your cook box in the bottom of the pantry. Or put one together to give as a gift like Nana did.

And, of course, the children help with $5 Dinner recipes. Our new favorite is making the breakfast and lunch recipes from Erin’s new cookbook – for supper!

The last bonus is another little habit they are learning. As my mama always says, the best cook knows how to clean up the mess afterward. :)

How about you? How do you say yes to your children in the kitchen?

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Alea January 27, 2011 at 7:51 pm

What a fun idea! I need to do this for my youngest and most enthusiastic kitchen helper. He often comes up to me and says, “let’s recipe” and bad mommy that I am, I don’t always feel like “reciping”. :)

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Tricia January 27, 2011 at 10:42 pm

Alea – I love “let’s recipe!” We just might have to use that too :)

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Kristy @momhatescooking January 27, 2011 at 7:59 pm

Great idea!!!

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Emily January 27, 2011 at 8:40 pm

Love this idea! Maybe a Christmas idea for grandma.

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Jackie January 27, 2011 at 8:43 pm

Thinking this would be good for surprise packages to my nieces and nephews throughout the year. My kiddos would like that too. They’re always asking if they could make something.

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Tricia January 27, 2011 at 10:48 pm

Love that idea Jackie!

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Angelia Johnson January 27, 2011 at 9:58 pm

The kids in your pictures look so cute; And full of personality! I want to thank you for the free cookbook I won The $5.00 Dinner Mon’s Breakfast & Lunch Cookbook. I received it this week..I had purchased another one prior to winning so now I can gift it to someone special many thanks…

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Christine Steendahl-"Then Menu Mom" January 27, 2011 at 10:03 pm

I love the cook box idea! It is fantastic to see children involved in planning and preparing of meals and treats. Thanks for sharing!

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Christine Steendahl-"The Menu Mom" January 27, 2011 at 10:05 pm

Correction “The Menu Mom”

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Elizabeth, blogger for SunButter January 28, 2011 at 8:55 am

Hi Tricia ~
Ah, what a treat to read another of your adventures with kids in the kitchen. Thanks for a smile-inducing, inspiring post!

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Tricia February 1, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Thanks for stopping by Elizabeth! Love that Sunbutter. A staple in our house :)

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Karen January 28, 2011 at 9:32 am

I can’t tell you all how much I enjoy cooking with DS, now 12. When I was taking Wilton decorating lessons, he’d beg me to teach him what I was learning. We do cookies and cupcakes together and he’s become quite the chef, with pancakes and spaghetti as a specialty. He told me he was going to make me dinner last night while I grabbed a quick nap. I expected spaghetti – just boiled noodles and sauce. I woke up to him browning sausage, noodles boiled and waiting in the pan, sauce warming, corn in the microwave and biscuits in the oven… what a kid!!! :)

So start cooking with them while they’re young – make it fun and at minimum, you know you’ll send them off to college able to boil water, but if you’re lucky, you’ll instill a love of cooking and baking. :)

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Susie's Homemade January 28, 2011 at 1:53 pm

My daughter and I make cupcakes all the time:-)

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Brandis January 30, 2011 at 10:26 am

Awesome post! Cooking with kids is such an easy (well, usually easy) and fun way to both teach and spend time with our kids at the same time. I have to point out that you left one VERY IMPORTANT skill off of the “skills learned” list- small motor skills. Measuring, scooping, dumping, and stiring are great ways to help preschoolers and older toddlers develop their small motor skills.

Love the cook box idea! I am sooo going to do this!

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Tricia February 1, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Most definitely Brandis! And that’s usually the favorite part :)

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Amanda January 31, 2011 at 9:41 am

I love the Cook Box idea! My son is 2 years old and already I can not make any meals without him pulling up his stool while saying “I cook. I cook.” We even got him a play kitchen for his birthday this year so he can cook whenever he wants. I usually try to make at least one or two meals a week that he can really get into the cooking part but I love the idea of the box where he can make his own choices!

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robbie @ going green mama February 1, 2011 at 7:36 am

I love the idea of the cook box – what a fun gift idea!!

We started cooking with our kids around the time they were one. They really enjoy the process!

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Jane February 1, 2011 at 1:25 pm

Love the cook box idea – I already have so many of these things in my pantry already, and it would be so easy to do. My 10 1/2 year old and 5 year old love to help make mini muffins, especially if we get crazy with add-ins, then freeze them for quick grab-and-go breakfasts in the morning. They love to brag about how they made it themselves and get envious looks from their friends! I’m heading home early from work today – maybe we’ll clear the kitchen counter and have them join me to make faccini – a recipe similar to Erin’s pizza roll, but on a larger scale and made with Pillsbury Hot Roll Mix for the dough base. Mmm…gettin’ messy in the kitchen sounds like great fun for a cold, blustery night!

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Tricia February 1, 2011 at 1:30 pm

You all have such great ideas! Keep up the cooking fun!

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Jessy December 2, 2011 at 1:45 pm

Thank you, Tricia
My kids just adore baking cupcakes – quick, easy, tasty- a delightful adventure for kids.

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Tricia December 2, 2011 at 10:43 pm

I agree Jessy! Cupcakes are easy and guaranteed fun :)

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