The Meal Prep Trick I Use to Get My Kids to Try New Foods
This simple strategy even works on kids who are picky eaters—I got mine to try kale chips.
Whoever said “many hands make light work” has not attempted to make dinner with my children. Add 10 minutes prep time to teach basic skills like cracking an egg; another 10 minutes to break up a fight over who gets to crack the egg; and still 10 more minutes cleaning up the egg that inevitably got dropped on the floor. Voila! Suddenly I’ve spent a full hour making an easy 30-minute recipe.
Nevertheless, I want to cook more with my girls (Summer, 10, and Felicity, 6). It’s satisfying to see them learn kitchen skills they will use for life. I love passing down recipes and sharing family lore. Plus, when my children help make dinner, they are way more invested in eating it. Felicity ideally prefers a balanced diet of pancakes and Pop Tarts, but she will try kale chips if she’s the one that tore the leaves off the stems.
That’s why I set out to try some of the Real Simple Cooking School lessons alongside my daughters, to see if our team could make cooking with kids on a busy weeknight feasible…or even enjoyable. Attempt One: How to Make the Fluffiest Frittata With Whatever You Have in the Fridge. Here’s what we learned.
Frittatas are so perfect for kids because honestly all they really want in life is to break eggs and stir things up, literally and metaphorically. I divided the most appealing tasks evenly. Like, insanely evenly. “You will break five eggs. Then your sister will break five eggs. Then you are going to get to stir first, 20 times. Then your sister will stir 20 times. Then I will tell you if more stirring is needed!” I felt ridiculous, but hey, no fights.
I’d gone a little nuts at the farm stand over the weekend so the fridge was a treasure trove of leftovers. Remnants of fresh mozzarella, tomato, and basil from a Caprese salad. A few yams, carrots, and garlic cloves I’d done on the grill in a foil packet. I knew the girls would be skeptical of sour cream—food director Dawn Perry’s secret ingredient to making fluffier frittatas—so I reminded them that it was also the secret ingredient in the tangy chocolate frosting we’d made for Felicity’s birthday cake last winter. I showed each ingredient to the kids so that later no one could take a bite and cry, “What is that orange stuff!?”
They signed off on tossing in some cold crinkle fries, because what’s a frittata without potatoes? And they shocked me by OK’ing a handful of baby bella mushrooms. I overbuy ‘shrooms constantly in a futile effort to recreate a particular fettuccine al fungi I ate at a café in Florence on a girls trip in 1998. That dish and my lost youth remain elusive, but there is middle-aged pleasure to be had in seeing a 10-year-old inhale the smell of mushrooms and declare it “so interesting!”
I’m not totally confident in the knife skills of my little sous chefs yet, but they find it easy and fun to handle a pizza cutter. Our old-school metal one proved sharp enough to cut vegetables (even tomatoes), the hunks of mozzarella, and some slices of black forest ham from the lunchbox supplies.
I loved that this recipe didn’t require pre-cooking the frittata on the stove—one less step and no open flame. We stirred it up, popped the skillet in the oven, and if we weren’t done in 30 minutes, it was way less than an hour. And the eggs were as fluffy as promised! On a scale of zero to Pop Tart, Summer and I gave it an 8, and Felicity came in at a respectable 6.
The amazing coda came when Summer suggested we could bring the leftover frittata to the end-of-year Girls Scouts picnic, thereby saving me the time and $20 I would have spent running to pick up a pizza after work. As I watched parents and children happily gobble up little squares of cold frittata the next night, I realized that we were successfully serving leftovers made from leftovers, achieving a sort of weeknight-meal inception. Is there a Girl Scouts badge for that?