Kid-Made Mac & Cheese

kids mac cheese 2 Kid Made Mac & Cheese

The other day, as we were driving somewhere or other, W announced that he had an Idea.

“You should teach cooking, mom!” he said excitedly. “Like you should be a teacher, and show people how to cook!” I explained that I did this already, at a few cooking schools. “I know you teach grown-ups,” he said with an eye roll, “I mean kids. You should teach kids how to cook.”

Not a bad idea, I told him. “You should teach me how to cook,” he added. “You haven’t taught me yet.” Which took me by surprise – I’ve been cooking with him, showing him how to chop and flip pancakes and make over-easy eggs and whatever else happens to come along, since he was so little he had to sit on the countertop to knead pizza dough.

kids mac cheese 3 Kid Made Mac & Cheese

But what he had in mind was a more structured cooking class, where the students sit and listen and the teacher demonstrates. I told him I’d teach him if he wanted me to, and that he could invite some friends over to learn too, if he wanted. This is our new plan – a series of cooking classes in our little kitchen nook. I’m already flashing back to playing school in an old playhouse in my friend’s back yard when I was his age. Except this time there will be no arguing over who gets to be the teacher.

We do often cook when his friends are over – naturally, the demand is most often for cookies. Whether he has guests ore not, I love that the kitchen is an electronics-free zone, save for the occasional recipe pulled up on the iPad. I’ve said before that cooking is a great way to spend screen-free time with your kids, and brush up on reading and math in the process. With the added bonus of food at the end.

kids mac cheese 4 Kid Made Mac & Cheese

Summer means less screen time and more outdoor time – a good thing, because W is turning into a little tech junkie. He has evolved from YouTube to Angry Birds to Spongebob and now groggily gropes around looking for the iPad within minutes of waking up. Arriving home from seeing the new Superman movie last night, he went directly to looking it up online. So we’re taking a Tech Timeout.

This is a challenge that encourages families to take a daily break from technology – disconnecting from all things electronic with the goal of helping spouses, parents and children build stronger bonds, communicate more personally and get more involved in each others’ lives. Good idea, no? Tech Timout Challenge by life insurance provider Foresters aims to bring awareness of the impact that digital devices are having on family time – they put out a call to action, asking people to turn off their electronics for an hour a day for a week. Just a week! We’re going to do it from now until September – or until the first snowfall, whichever comes first. And hopefully forever after that. It’ll be the Van Rosendaals – unplugged.

kids mac cheese Collage Kid Made Mac & Cheese

It’s for my sake more than his – we do limit his screen time, and ultimately I struggle with it the most. I’m hooked. The boys are OK with it – when it’s nice out there are lemonade stands to host and go-carts to ride – but I have a hard time not trying to fill every spare minute instagramming/tweeting/texting/emailing/documenting… I rarely watch TV, but the internet is just buzzing with so much interesting (and not so interesting) stuff I far too easily get sucked into. And there’s always someone to text or an email to answer. Being a self-employed writer, the lines are more than a little blurry between public and personal and work and home.

But with summer coming up, I need to wean myself off – to unplug and pay closer attention to those moments that aren’t going to be around forever. And spend more time with W while he’s still interested in doing so. So we’re going to devote an hour a day to do something together that doesn’t involve a screen of any kind – some days it will be building things or gardening or reading or practicing soccer – but often it will be a cooking “class”, either one on one, with B or a posse of his friends. I love this idea. Anyone who wants to take part can download a Tech Timeout™ challenge pledge form for all to sign and post on the fridge if you need a reminder to collectively unplug on a regular basis.

We came up with a list of things W wants to learn how to make. He’s mastered soups already, he says (although he likes to make them but not eat them), but wants to crank out his own pasta, make some ice cream and has a few ideas for upside-down cakes. To assess their actual cooking skills without me hovering alongside, I asked B and W to make a recipe from Everyday Kitchen for Kids, a book of recipes designed and written especially for kids to follow themselves, with minimal grown-up involvement. (Depending on their age and skill level, you may want to hover.) It was interesting to see them read and follow a recipe all on their own, and collaborate on the common goal of a batch of gooey mac & cheese. The kitchen was a disaster, but they made this all by themselves.

We’ll see what’s next.

Real Mac ’n’ Cheddar Cheese

Adapted from Everyday Kitchen for Kids, by Jennifer Low (Whitecap).

What you’ll need:
glass or ceramic baking dish, spatula, measuring cups, measuring spoons, foil (or lid of baking dish), bowls, whisk, wooden spoon

Macaroni:
1 1/2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
1 tsp vegetable oil
2 1/3 cups warm tap water

Cheese sauce:
1/4 cup butter
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp mustard
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese

Topping:
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs
pinch salt

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

In the baking dish and using a baking spatula, mix the macaroni with the vegetable oil until the macaroni is well coated.

Pour the warm water onto the macaroni. Cover tightly with a lid or foil. Bake for 30 minutes. Get help taking it out of the oven. Keep covered for at least another 15 minutes. The macaroni softens some more and the baking dish cools off a bit.

Meanwhile, make the sauce. In a large microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter in the microwave at 50% power (about 1 minute). Use a whisk to mix in the flour until smooth. Then mix in the mustard and salt. Gradually whisk in the milk until smooth.

Heat the sauce in the microwave on high for 1 minute (or longer, but only 1 minute at a time so it doesn’t foam over), until the sauce is bubbly and thickened. Get help removing the bowl from the microwave. Cool slightly so the bowl isn’t too hot to touch.

Stir the cheddar into the sauce. The cheese does not need to be fully melted in right now. Set aside.

Next make the breadcrumb topping. In a large microwave-safe bowl, heat 1 Tbsp butter in the microwave at 50% power until melted (about 30 seconds). Mix in the breadcrumbs and salt. Use the back of a wooden spoon to mash the breadcrumbs into the butter to break up lumps.

Get help uncovering the dish of macaroni (there should be some water left in the bottom of the dish). Using a baking spatula, scrape the cheese sauce onto the macaroni. Stir well. Spread the macaroni evenly in the dish. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top. Bake, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are lightly golden. Serves 4-6.

This post was generously sponsored by life insurance provider Foresters, but the opinions and images are my own. For more information, visit techtimeout.com.

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June 15 2013 02:41 pm | pasta

9 Responses to “Kid-Made Mac & Cheese”

  1. Lyn on 15 Jun 2013 at 8:15 pm #

    Just added that book to my amazon wish list. My 8yo cooks supper every second Thursday and I am thinking he needs a new cookbook or two. Although he uses sharp knives a lot, much to my husband’s eternal horror.

  2. Heather on 15 Jun 2013 at 11:20 pm #

    We’re doing the Tech Timeout challenge too. It’s going to be interesting!

  3. Charlene on 16 Jun 2013 at 8:24 am #

    My kids and my mom have been doing a weekly cooking “class” with my mom over the summer for a few years now. My 10-year-old daughter has already gone through my recipe box and made a list of things she wants to try. And surprisingly, my 15-year-old son wants to try cooking this summer too! He has mastered cinnamon buns and wants to expand his repertoire. It’s a great way to combine learning to cook with spending time with Gramma!

  4. Barb on 16 Jun 2013 at 12:39 pm #

    Super idea! Sounds like you are going to have a great summer. :)

  5. Kylee on 17 Jun 2013 at 9:14 am #

    That is my dream! I can’t wait to pass on my love for cooking to my son.

    My favourite childhood memories involve being in the kitchen with my mother and grandmother.

    At the moment, my 18 month old son is happy to “stir” and open and shut the microwave door. As well as peer into the oven to see if anything is baking.

  6. Biz on 18 Jun 2013 at 10:07 am #

    My husband is a t.v. junkie – CNN, MSN, sports – something is always on.

    Me? I can get lost on tastespotting, pinterest, etc. So many food blogs, so little time!

  7. Tanny on 18 Jun 2013 at 5:03 pm #

    You might be interested in this — the NYTimes Recipe Lab is having some sort of video chat about cooking with kids, based on this recipe: http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/18/making-pizza-with-mario-batali-and-sons/ I came across it after reading this blog post the other day and thought, Dinner with Julie did it first! :D I have no idea how Recipe Lab works but it looks intriguing, esp. for a food blogger.
    – Long time lurker/big fan of your blog!

  8. Honey Banana Muffins & a Summer of Baking » Dinner With Julie on 13 Sep 2013 at 8:34 am #

    […] in mid-June, just a week before the floods, we committed to a tech timeout – a challenge to abandon all electronics for an hour a day for the summer. Maybe even […]

  9. Darby on 13 Apr 2014 at 12:14 pm #

    I enjoy your blog and listening to you on CBC:) just made this with my 6 year old daughter and it was delicious! I’ve never used the microwave to make cheese sauce and was surprised how easy it was. Thanks for the fun, easy recipe.

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