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A couple of my elementary school kids enjoy cooking. But, they struggle when cooking from a cookbook. Most cookbooks weren’t written with kid cooks in mind.
The font is small. There are unfamiliar cooking vocabulary words they haven’t learned yet. The directions are often written in long paragraph form, making it hard to track exactly which step they’re on.
So, I wanted to find a better way to make cooking go more smoothly for my kid cooks. I’ve been experimenting with adapting recipes for young readers.
When they’re busy putting their new cooking skills to work, I don’t want their brains to also have to struggle to read. The brain can only handle so many new things at once, so I don’t want to overwhelm them.
Last year I shared a chocolate chip cookie recipe for early readers. Since then, I’ve adapted several other recipes to make them kid cook friendly.
When I find a recipe I want them to try, I copy it into a Word document. Then I start changing.
Increase the Font Size
One of my young readers wears glasses for reading, and I suspect my other will before too long. Small font is just hard for them to read.
I aim for 14 size font, which is large enough to read easily when printed. If the recipe is short enough, I’ll increase that to 16 pt.
Any Substitutions or Doubling
I do a lot of mental math and ingredient swapping when I cook. I can look at a recipe as written, and figure out what I’m going to change.
My kids aren’t mind readers. They don’t know what I’m planning on changing.
So I help them out. If I grease a pan with a butter wrapper instead of spraying with nonstick spray, I need to make the recipe match. Otherwise they’re going to waste time trying to figure out where the nonstick spray is (that we probably don’t have because I keep forgetting to buy it! :D)
If I swap out butter for oil, I make the recipe reflect that.
Since we have such a large family, I often double or triple recipes. When I’m adapting a recipe for young readers, I just go ahead and make those changes for them.
There’s definitely a time and place for teaching your kid cooks to double recipe ingredients on their own. But, when they’re first learning to cook is not that time!
Change the Wording
I read over the entire recipe, and make a mental note of any words that will be problematic for my young readers.
I look for:
- Unfamiliar vocabulary
- Words split between two lines with a hyphen
- Complicated words I can simplify
- Measurements written in non-standard form
Once I make changes, I reread the entire recipe. I make sure the changes I made won’t cause problems in the outcome.
Change the Formatting
My kids are getting exposed to a variety of recipe formats when they help me cook. When they’re on their own, I want to maximize their chances of success, so I stick to a format I know they’re familiar with.
I use bullet points for ingredients, and make sure each measurement is clear. I use capital T for tablespoon and lowercase t for teaspoon.
For the directions portion, I use a numbered list style. I make sure not to have too many points in one list.
I’ve also experimented with adding check boxes for one of my young readers. He tends to lose his place, so checking off a step when he’s finished makes it easier for him.
Add Safety Notes
Experienced cooks have basic safety rules down pat. They know to use pot holders and use long utensils when stirring boiling hot food.
Young cooks don’t always remember those things. So I write them into the recipe for them.
After stating how long to cook something and at one temperature, I add “Use potholders and remove the pan from the oven.”
When giving directions to stir, I write “Use the long wooden spoon to stir carefully. Remember to stir the bottom of the food so it doesn’t burn.”
While I’m also there supervising, I want them to internalize these habits. If they read it and hear me say it, they’ll figure it out more quickly. Multi-sense learning really does work well.
Teach Kitchen Vocabulary Words
Sometimes when I’m working on a recipe, I realize there’s a word they may not know. It may be a cooking verb like saute. Or maybe an ingredient like cardamon.
I highlight the new word for them on the printed recipe. Then I take a minute or two to explain what it means.
When they see the highlighting, it reminds them to remember what we talked about.
Review the Recipe with Your Kid Cooks
Before letting them cook, I make my young readers read the entire recipe aloud to me. This does a couple of things:
- It helps them know what to expect
- I can point out any trouble spots
- We can talk about the steps
- I can answer any questions they have
- It gets them in the habit of reading a recipe through before starting
I’ve found this requirement sets them up for success.
Have Fun with Your Kid Cooks
Teaching your kids to cook is an important life skill. It’s a great way to spend time together, and minimize the amount of cooking you must do by yourself.
With just a little adapting, you can make most recipes friendly for your kid cooks. The easier it is for them to read, the more they can focus on the actually cooking process.
If you don’t want to adapt recipes for young readers, consider investing in some quality kid cookbooks. Here are some we’ve purchased or checked out from the library over the years: