The Cowboy Boot Contessa & Sons: Cooking with Children

IMG_1583Unfortunately I think this may be the image some people have when the subject of cooking with children arises. I promise you, this is not what it looks like at my house – well, most days anyway. Below, you will find some tips on how I got started cooking with my boys.


Give them plenty of time and space. Before cooking a meal with my boys, I try to be realistic about how much time we will need. In the beginning, I would double the amount I thought we needed, and only cooked on days when we had no other commitments. Once I knew we wouldn’t be rushed, I gave them each their own work zone. My kitchen is a galley and I have 2 good-sized countertops separated by the stove. I put Vincent on one side and Jude on the other. The goal is to give them enough room, so they don’t get hurt.


Teach knife safety. One hand on the handle and one hand flat on top of the knife. As long as the top hand stays flat, the risk of cutting off a digit is practically nil. My kids use their knives everyday, and we have never had a kitchen accident (knocking on wood, while throwing salt over my shoulder). I find giving them big knives (like the French chef shown above) is better than smaller paring knives. If your children have no experience with knives, I would prep the ingredients slightly. For instance, slice a carrot in half lengthwise after they have peeled it. It is much easier for them to cut the carrot into semi-circles when it doesn’t roll. Same thing with a potato. (Ironically, I cut myself yesterday. I wasn’t watching what I was doing, because I was worried Vincent was going to get hurt with the microplane.)


Put them in charge of an entire meal. We started “Soup Tuesday” a few years ago. Instead of a traditional main lesson, the boys were responsible for cooking dinner which consisted of soup and bread. They would chop vegetables, brown meat and add stock. They would mix up the bread dough and knead it by hand. The soup would simmer throughout the day, and we would bake the bread right before dinner. This was such a good investment of time and energy, because now they both know what goes into putting a meal on the table.


Don’t worry about the mess. I had a rule when the boys were babies, if they played with something longer than it took to clean up, I considered it a win-win. I have the same rule in the kitchen. When they cook, they are responsible for putting away the ingredients and clearing the counter. I don’t mind loading the dishwasher and washing the dishes. However, Vincent does have an affinity for kitchen gadgets, and when he uses SIX separate utensils to make scrambled eggs, well, he does his own dishes.


Always, always have the ingredients for chocolate chip cookies on hand. Whether you are vegan, gluten-free, paleo, dairy-free or raw, find a recipe that fits your lifestyle and always, always have the ingredients available. (This is actually one of my top 10 rules for homeschooling. You can read the other nine here.) For Jude, this is a delicious chocolate chip cookie with cinnamon. He has probably made this recipe 50 times, and every batch makes him proud.


Have ingredients ready to go. Friday is our baking day. So that means after I make the coffee at 6 am, I take a pound of butter out of the refrigerator to soften. This is a great way to start the day, and honestly, there is nothing worse than wanting to make something and waiting for butter to soften. It’s like waiting for water to boil or having them ask “Are we there yet?”! If they don’t need the butter, it goes back in the fridge – no harm done.


Have a couple of kid-friendly cookbooks. I find most cookbooks geared toward children to be patronizing (“Let’s make a peanut butter sandwich, boys and girls!”), full of crappy ingredients (Sugary cereal, marshmallows and instant drink mixes are pretty standard fare.) or just plain weird (Gummy worms in pre-made pudding packs. This is a recipe?) The library is a great place to try out new cookbooks for free.


Get them their own gear. Personally I think all you really need is a good chef’s knife, a large cutting board, a vegetable peeler and an apron for each child. Having said that, we do like having our stand-mixer (and the accompanying grain grinder attachment), stoneware loaf pans and pizza pans, a large bread board, more bowls, cookie sheets and cooling racks than necessary and a really nice stove with a convection oven.


Let them develop their own style. I am not a very precise cook. I rarely use a recipe and when I do, I take the directions as mere suggestions. I comprise a meal by looking in the refrigerator and the cabinets and seeing what I can come up with. This is a very satisfying way for me to be creative. Vincent, on the other hand, likes nothing better than to troll through cooking magazines and cookbooks, find a recipe, make a list of the ingredients, see what we need to buy, go shopping and then make the recipe. In the beginning this drove me nuts. (Some days it still does!) However, I have realized that our different personalities manifest as different cooking styles – and this is okay. (Repeat. This is okay. Repeat.)

IMG_2560Above all, have fun. We ate some interesting meals in the beginning. This was compounded by the fact that both boys were interested in pioneer cooking at the time, thanks to Laura Ingalls and the Little House series. (Think no leavening and lots of lard.) However, we did make some good memories and fondly recall making fried salt pork and rye and injun bread – both were disgusting, but are still great for a laugh. I am under no illusion that either of my boys will grow up to become famous chefs, however, I do feel good about knowing they will never go hungry.


Read about Pizza Night and Sunday Gravy by clicking the images below.



24 thoughts on “The Cowboy Boot Contessa & Sons: Cooking with Children

  1. This is so fabulous! I have questions for you, but will have to come back when not nursing a baby and have use of both hands!

  2. Love this post today (:

    Oh my, you have articulated perfectly what “children’s cookbooks” are so often about!!! Can I laugh out loud again? Okay. We also like Pretend Soup. We just found Salad People at Goodwill Bookstore. One that we really like as a book that’s easy, not patronizing and sophisticated palate recipes is Kids Cook 1-2-3 : Recipes for Young Chefs Using Only 3 Ingredients by Rozanne Gold. Way above Vincent’s abilities — maybe good for Jude.

    Do you guys still have Tuesdays as the boys in charge of the meal? I might have to institute that.

    We have instituted Sunday Night Spaghetti night with “Sheila’s Italian Bread” and Papa’s Sauce. It has become a very fun and filling part of our lives (:

    A perfect pair of posts for today for me. (:

    Have a wonderful Monday!

    PS. I fully expect that someday I will be reading the Wall Street Journal and find that there is an entire article devoted to the premier chef, Vincent P.

    • I will check out Kids Cook 1-2-3. Sounds good.

      We don’t have a dedicated night anymore. It is more just a natural part of our day that they both either help or prepare meals themselves.

      We started Soup Tuesday when we first came to Waldorf and I was so focused on what we weren’t doing. It is funny, in hindsight, to see what has carried over from that haphazard year.

      Glad you found something you needed this morning.

      Love to you.
      Sheila (CBBC)

  3. This is wonderful! My middle son just asked me this year to teach him to cook. I wish I had started with him when he was younger, but better late than never. I will look into these cookbooks you mentioned. My eldest loved The Teen’s Vegetarian Cookbook, and the lasagna recipe in there is still the one we still use. I love the Cowboy Boot Contessa title. And I agree with Mama, that Vincent sounds like a chef in the making. Don’t be surprised if you see a red pick up truck pull up right around dinner time one of these days:)

    • You are welcome for dinner any time!!

      I think it is a great time to teach your son. I remember talking to a woman who was afraid to send her son to college in the fall because he didn’t know how to make a sandwich. I assumed she was exaggerating. She wasn’t. Then I was talking to a friend of mine who is a girl scout leader who said she put out peanut butter, jelly, bread and some knives and the girls didn’t know what to do. Unbelievable. However, you can’t blame the kids.

      I will admit, I am Italian. My husband is Italian. So, it’s a little overkill with the cooking in this house. However, I think we are doing kids a big disservice by not letting them cook themselves or even just letting them see us cook. I can really get on a soap box about cooking and eating together, so I will restrain myself.

      PS. Completely different subject: My mom and I had a nice discussion about Mary of the Knots yesterday. I said to her, “You know my friend Emmie?” and she said “Yes.” LOVE THAT!!

      • Thank you so much for sharing all of that! Cooking sounds like a wonderful experience in your home, and so glad that your sons are reaping the benefit. I completely agree with you that children need to be a part of and learn how to cook. I have kind of turned a corner in cooking in the last few years. It is something I truly enjoy now instead of just being a perfunctory thing to feed the family. My mom and sisters are all amazing cooks, and I guess I was kind of intimidated. I just started with a few simple recipes and got really good at those and then moved on from there. My son has learned to make spaghetti, lasagna, and chicken parmesan as well as basic baking like brownies. He definitely knows how to make a sandwich, peanut butter and nutella being his favorite:) And give my best to your mom, please. xoxo.

  4. Okay, Sheila, I finally found a moment to sit down with my laptop. If you have time, I’d love to hear your input on:

    1. What age to start with the knife skills?
    2. When you implemented Soup Tuesdays, would that take all morning? All day? I really love that idea, but at the same time, I’m really struggling with how to get us into a weekly rhythm. I can’t quite figure out how/when those activities (Baking Day! Painting Day!) fit in for us. Even with my oldest just being a kindergartner.
    3. How do you like “Baking Bread with Children?” It has been on my wish list for quite some time.

    I think that’s a good start. ;-) Thank you for such a fun, enlightening post!

    • Hey Trace,
      I gave my kids knives very early on – maybe starting at 4 or 5. I didn’t realize this was a big deal until I was talking to some friends and they wouldn’t let their 10 year olds have knives. Of course, in the beginning, I was right with them – not even letting them cut at the same time so that I could be right there. And just show them that technique with the hand flat on the top. Vincent still cuts like that for the most part.

      In the beginning, the cooking was our rhythm. Especially if your oldest is just in kindy, I think this could really work. (Tell me again the ages of your children and how many you have?) So when I started Waldorf, Jude was 5 and Vincent was 9. The two things that anchored our week were making the soup/dinner on Tuesday and baking on Friday. We would start around 10am and cook for anywhere from 30-60 minutes – depending on so many factors!! In the beginning, I tried to focus more on just doing it every Tuesday, not necessarily if they completed the whole meal. Once they began to look forward to Tuesday and know that that meant they were cooking dinner, they really rose to the occasion. I still like baking day on Friday. I used to be more strict in the beginning, that the boys could only have dessert on the weekend and THEN only if they baked it themselves. (I think I need to re-instate that rule! lol)

      Rhythm is so hard in the beginning – so hard!! But once you get it and set those anchor points in place, they continue to carry you for years.

      I do love Baking Bread with Children. It has so many great recipes and is focused around festivals and daily rhythms, which is nice. I don’t think it is essential though – considering every bread recipe is basically flour, water, yeast and salt. I have a page on my blog devoted to Bread Recipes,, the last recipe is from BBWC (although it could be from the Waldorf snack book too) and it is really, really simple, and oh, so yummy. (And because Emmie mentioned Nutella in her comment, I have to tell you that these are even better slathered with that wicked stuff!) I would pick a recipe and just make it on, say, Monday. Make the dough in the morning (either you or the kids), have them shape the dough when it’s ready, bake and have for snack. Tell a story and BOOM! you’re done!

      OH, boy, I can go on and on and on about food!! Sorry if this was more than you asked for!


  5. I love cooking with Gracie and Dinah. And part of that reason is that they love it so much. Gracie, aged 9, has started initiating her own things. We don’t bake or cook anything special.

    I’ve never made bread until I tried Sheila’s Italian Bread. It must be absolutely fullproof because it comes out each and every week and is absolutely delicious! (I’ve found that for whatever reason, we only need about 4.5-5 cups of flour?) Anyhow, want to make a plug for that.

    This Christmas Santa left crinkle cutters in their stockings — an idea I got from some Waldorf blog or another. They can cut with these unatttended. I let them cut with my 9″ chef’s knife without feeling too intimidated. But I think I’m taking the Sheila leap and introducing cutting things beyond the super safe 1/2 carrot or celery stalk (:

    Anyway, I’m having my coffee and procrastinating the things I need to do and wanted to “talk” to you guys (;

    PS. the crinkle cutter we got. fun and safe (;

  6. Oh, absolutely not! No way could you ever say too much about cooking or Waldorf! Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts. I wholeheartedly agree that establishing a good rhythm has proven to be harder than I ever would have imagined. I have an almost-6-year old, an almost-4-year old, and an 18-month old. Even with their young ages, I’m finding it difficult to actually DO what I have researched we SHOULD do each day. You know?

    I think part of my problem is that I feel passionate about instituting the homemaking-type of daily/weekly rhythms, yet I feel inadequate in most of those skills myself, so it’s even harder. I definitely want my daughters to learn the lost arts that I never learned, and really, we’ll be learning together. The learning curve just seems so steep sometimes!

    I really wish I could just have a consultation with you! (Kind of not joking, but I don’t want to seem too crazy-stalkerish.) ;-)

  7. It’s wonderful that you are helping your children learn the joys of cooking and good food, which are greatly endangered by our culture.

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  9. Love it! I have a batch of cookers here too. Have you ever checked out the River Cottage cookbook for kids? It is actually recipes for children but my 10 year old can easily cook up most of the recipes. I love to see more boys cooking.

  10. I am new, just found your blog & am excited to read it all! I was thinking about giving my daughter a knife for Christmas, she loves helping in the kitchen. She will be 2 years, 4 mo. Do you think this is too young?

    • I would get her a serrated plastic knife or even a nice wooden one and cut things like ripe bananas, cooked, cooled sweet potatoes, or peeled avocado. Soft things that hold their shape, you know? Also dumping and mixing is so good at that age: granola is a good one because she can still see all the parts when they get mixed up.

      Glad you’re here Erin!

  11. At two we started our children on lettuce knives. They are big like a chef’s knife, but plastic and serrated. That worked well with getting them started on cutting. We also introduced a peeler pretty early on, so they could peel and then cut cucumbers.

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