Getting kids comfortable in the kitchen is the best Mother’s Day gift of all

As a mom who does the bulk of the family menu planning and cooking, it’s always a treat when the dinner tables are turned and a meal is prepared for me.

It doesn’t have to be fancy, and it most definitely doesn’t have to be served in bed. But if the kids in your life are at least somewhat comfortable in the kitchen, they have the tools they need to spoil you any day, not just Mother’s Day. They just might need a little encouragement.

America’s Test Kitchen’s recent “The Complete Book for Teen Chefs” offers just that — more than 70 recipes categorized by skill level and genre. There are mini cooking lessons throughout — how to cut a mango, the proper way to pipe filling — and tips for successful kitchen ventures, kitchen safety and measuring equivalents. It sparks ideas, too, which we all know can be the most difficult part of meal preparation.

For kids not old enough for a kitchen takeover, start laying the foundation through picture books. A couple to consider:

If you have a picky eater and want a teachable but comical moment, “Just Try One Bite” by healthy eating advocate Camila Alves McConaughey flips the narrative and has three kids urging their parents to try new foods. (Her Women of Today website offers plenty of approachable tips and recipes for all kinds of eaters, not just picky ones.)

For something sweeter, “Every Cake Has a Story” by chef and Milk Bar founder Christina Tosi encourages creativity through baking when a young girl’s cake dreams come to life. The book includes a simple frosting recipe, so story time can have a delicious happily ever after. (For older kids, Tosi also has a cookbook, “Milk Bar: Kids Only.”)

But the best gift that you can give your kids — and yourself — is time in the kitchen. Ask them to plan a meal, from recipe selection to grocery shopping. Find age-appropriate tasks, like setting the table or tossing a salad. Before long your “helpers” really will be helpers, and not only will you have earned a kitchen respite, but you’ve raised a confident cook who will someday realize what we already know: The kitchen is the heart of a home.

Oven-Roasted Salmon with Mango-Mint Salsa

Serves 4.

Note: This is a beginner-level recipe from “The Complete Cookbook for Teen Chefs,” by America’s Test Kitchen.

• 1 mango, cut into 1/4-in. pieces

• 3 tbsp. lime juice, squeezed from 2 limes

• 2 tbsp. chopped fresh mint

• 1 jalapeño, stemmed, seeded, and minced

• 1 tbsp. plus 2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil, measured separately

• 1 garlic clove, peeled and minced

• 1/2 tsp. plus 1/2 tsp. salt, ­measured separately

• 4 (6- to 8-oz.) center-cut skin-on ­salmon fillets, 1 to 1 1/2 in. thick

14 tsp. pepper


Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Adjust oven rack to lowest position, place foil-lined baking sheet on rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees.

In medium bowl, use spoon to stir together mango, lime juice, mint, jalapeño, 1 ­tablespoon oil, garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Use paper towels to pat salmon dry. Rub fillets evenly on both sides with remaining 2 teaspoons oil. Sprinkle flesh sides evenly with pepper and remaining ½ teaspoon salt. Wash your hands.

When oven reaches 500 degrees, reduce oven temperature to 275 degrees. Working quickly, use oven mitts to pull out oven rack and carefully place salmon fillets, skin side down, onto hot baking sheet. Slide rack back into oven and roast until thickest parts of fillets register 125 degrees on instant-read thermometer, 9 to 13 minutes.

Transfer baking sheet to cooling rack. Slide spatula underneath each fillet to detach from skin, leaving skin behind on foil, and transfer fillets to serving plates. Top fillets with mango salsa and serve.

Chicken and Spinach Breakfast Bites

Serves 4.

Note: Use this recipe as a starting point and adjust seasonings — and even meat — to suit your tastes. Leftover chicken or chicken sausage can work in place of the ground chicken. Adapted from from Camila Alves McConaughey’s Women of Today.

• 6 eggs

• 1/2 c. skim milk

• 1/2 tsp. garlic

• 1/2 tsp red chile flakes, optional

• 1/2 lb. ground chicken, browned

• 1 c. spinach, rinsed and chopped


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Spray a 12-cup muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, crack eggs and add milk. Whisk together. Add garlic and pepper flakes if you like a little spice. Whisk again to combine. Set aside.

Fill each muffin cup about halfway with ground chicken and spinach, evenly distributing the mixture among the cups. Pour the egg mixture into each muffin cup, leaving a bit of room at the top for the muffins to rise.

Bake for 15 minutes, or until the egg has set, and the edges of the cups are browned. The middle should be firm to the touch.

Remove from the oven and let them cool slightly. If the cups don’t slide out easily, use a spoon to pop them out. Serve immediately. (Refrigerate muffins up to four days or freeze for up to 3 months.)

Skillet Brownie Cookie

Serves 12.

Note: Satisfy Mom’s sweet tooth with this vegetarian dessert. If you don’t have a cast-iron pan, you can use a 9-inch cake pan or springform pan — just melt the butter before starting the recipe. Using Dutch-processed cocoa powder is recommended. Natural cocoa powder will make the cookie lighter in color and drier in texture. This is a beginner-level recipe from “The Complete Cookbook for Teen Chefs,” by America’s Test Kitchen.

• 6 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces

• 1 c. (5 oz.) all-purpose flour

• 3 tbsp. Dutch-processed ­cocoa ­powder (see Note)

14 tsp. baking soda

14 tsp. salt

34 c. packed (5 1/4 oz.) light brown sugar

• 2 tbsp. vegetable oil

• 1 large egg

• 1 tsp. vanilla extract

12 c. chocolate chips

• Ice cream or whipped cream, for serving


Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. In 10‑inch cast-iron skillet (see Note), melt butter over medium heat. Turn off heat and use rubber spatula to scrape butter into large heatproof bowl. Set skillet aside on cool burner (don’t wipe it out or wash it).

In medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Add brown sugar and oil to bowl with butter and whisk until well combined. Add egg and vanilla and whisk until smooth.

Add flour mixture to butter mixture and use rubber spatula to stir until just combined and no dry flour is visible. Add chocolate chips and stir until evenly distributed.

Scrape cookie dough into now-empty ­skillet. Spread and push dough into an even layer covering the bottom of the skillet.

Transfer skillet to oven and bake until edges of cookie are set and top looks dry and shiny, 16 to 18 minutes. Use oven mitts to transfer skillet to cooling rack. Place oven mitt on skillet handle as a reminder that handle is HOT. Let cookie cool in skillet for 30 minutes.

Use butter knife to cut cookie into wedges, being careful not to scratch the skillet’s surface. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream as desired.

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