Kids in the Kitchen

Planning, patience, and a bit of practice are the key ingredients for cooking with your kids.

Article by Jill Clark

Photography by Cathy Lyons—Lyons Photography

Originally published in Centerville Lifestyle

Some families cook with their kids often, but for others, just thinking about it is overwhelming. With some realistic expectations, extra time, and a bit of planning, it can be a positive experience for everyone and you'll make good memories along the way.

Between leading cooking classes and culinary camps for Dorothy Lane Market (DLM) Culinary Center and raising a large Italian family, Mary Cooney has spent a considerable amount of time cooking with kids. She was happy to share helpful ideas you may not have considered for working with kids in the kitchen. She also shared a few (rather tasty) kid-tested recipes!

For Mary, letting kids help prepare food is not only a fun thing to do, it’s essential and beneficial for everyone in the family. “My analogy is that the family is like a team. One person can’t do it all, you need the other players and everyone knows they have an important job to do.” 

Not sure where to start? “Let kids help with desserts,” Mary advises. “Kids love to make cookies, brownies, and other desserts. That gets them interested and gets you used to working together to make something.”

You’ll need a bit of extra patience, so Mary points out that realistic and lowered expectations help. “Give yourself double the time you would usually need. You’ll be explaining things, they’ll be moving slow, they might lose focus and need to be brought back to the task. Expect clean-up to take longer too,” says Mary. But as she’s learned, it gets easier the more you do it.

The benefits of cooking with kids are worth the extra effort. “Getting the family involved slows things down. Instead of eating and rushing off to the next thing, we talk and laugh while we cook. The kids open up more when we’re in the kitchen. I'm amazed at the bonds created when we work together,” Mary shares.

If you’d like to learn from Mary Cooney or one of the other wonderful instructors in person, DLM Culinary Center offers cooking classes for every level of expertise and tasting palate. They even offer camps for kids and teens, which are currently in full swing. Find details at 

Mary’s Top Tips

  • Allow your kids to help with cooking, baking, and other kitchen tasks based on their age and abilities.
  • Let your kids help decide what to cook, they’ll be more likely to try it. 
  • Get the kids involved at the store too, they can look at the recipe and find the ingredients.
  • Come up with a regular schedule for cooking together, like once a week.
  • Ask your kids what they liked about the meal they made and how it could be better. Giving input feels important!                                                             

Ready to cook with your kids? Mary’s recipes make a delicioso Italian meal!  

Fresh Pasta Dough 

Makes 1 pound  of pasta


2 2/3 cups King Arthur all purpose flour, plus extra as needed

4 large eggs

2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil


Make dough

  1. Process flour, eggs/yolks, and oil in food processor until mixture forms cohesive dough that feels soft and is barely tacky to touch, about 45 seconds. Pinch dough; if any dough sticks to your fingers, add extra flour 1 tablespoon at a time. Process until flour is fully Incorporated after each addition, 10-15 seconds, before retesting. If dough doesn't become cohesive, add up to 1 tablespoon of water until it just comes together, then process 30 seconds longer.
  2. Knead and let rest. Turn out dough onto a dry counter and knead until smooth, 1-2 minutes. Shape dough into 6-inch log. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for at least 15 minutes.
  3. Cut dough into six equal pieces. Working with one piece of dough at a time while keeping the remaining pieces covered, dust both sides generously with flour, and press into flatter rectangle. 
  4. With a pasta roller or a pasta machine, turn the knob to the widest setting (#1). Insert the first piece of dough and roll it through the machine. Continue running the dough through the roller, reducing the width setting between each run, until you reach #5. 
  5. Place on parchment paper so it can dry slightly. (Repeat with remaining pieces of dough.) After 5-8 minutes, turn each sheet over so the other side can dry slightly too. Note: when the dough is slightly dry, it should feel leathery, not sticky or tacky. 
  6. Once slightly dry on both sides, cut each sheet into pasta. Place back on parchment paper and sprinkle with flour.

To Cook

  1. Cook fresh pasta noodles in a large pot of boiling water (salted). Use about 6 quarts of water for 1 pound of pasta. Fresh pasta takes considerably less time to cook than dried pasta, usually one to 3 minutes, so watch it carefully. 
  2. To test, remove a noodle with tongs or long-handled fork, let cool slightly and take a bite. Pasta is best when cooked al dente (tender but firm to the bite). 
  3. As soon as it is done, drain in a colander. 

Mary's Meatballs

Makes about 30 meatballs


1 1/2 pounds of ground chuck

1 1/2 pounds ground pork

1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese

3 tablespoons heavy cream

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

3 large eggs

1/3 cup fresh parsley, finely minced

3 large  garlic cloves, finely minced

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 1/2  teaspoons fresh ground pepper

2/3 cup cold water (The secret to great meatballs!)


  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. 
  2. Brown the ground chuck and ground pork. Mix meat and all ingredients except the cold water in a large bowl. Stir cold water into the rest of the ingredients last. Refrigerate for 2 hours (or up to 24 hours). 
  3. Form into meatballs with an ice cream scoop or roll into balls and place on a pan with sides. (No need to leave space between the meatballs.) Bake at 400° for 18-20 minutes or until lightly golden on top. 

Tomato Sauce with Meat

Makes 12 cups of sauce


Cooked meatballs (see recipe)

1 1/2 pounds boneless pork meat (country-style ribs)

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

2/3 cup olive oil

1 medium-large onion, chopped

3 large garlic cloves, finely minced

1 cup red wine

1 (28 ounce) can San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes,hand crush

2 cups chicken stock

1 tablespoon pesto

1 red pepper, cut in half

1 Parmesan cheese rind

1 package (3/4 ounce) fresh basil (reserve one stem with leaves attached)

2 (26 ounce) boxes Pomi strained tomatoes


  1. Season pork meat with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a large stock pan and cook meat until brown on both sides. Add onion and cook for about 5 minutes or until onion is transparent. Add garlic, then wine. Allow it to completely reduce.
  2. Crush tomatoes then add them, along with chicken broth, pesto, red pepper, and cheese rind. Add half package of basil, reserving one stem for later.
  3. Preheat oven to 400°F. Continue cooking on medium-high heat for 15-20 minutes. 
  4. Once tomatoes have broken down, add 2 boxes of strained tomatoes. Bring to a boil and place a piece of parchment paper on top of pan before you cover with a tight-fitting lid. Place covered pan in oven for 1.5 hours. Add the meatballs during the last 10-15 minutes of cooking.
  5. Remove meatballs, pork meat, cooked basil stems, and red pepper, set aside.
  6. Remove all the leaves from the reserved basil stem. Stack the leaves on top of each other and cut into thin ribbons. Add to sauce after meatballs have been removed.

Cheesy Garlic Bread

Makes 8 to 10 servings


2 cloves garlic, finely minced

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 French baguette, split in half but still attached

3 thin slices of provolone cheese, cut in half

4 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, finely grated

2/3 cup shredded mozzarella

1 teaspoon fresh parsley, finely minced


  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. 
  2. Combine garlic, butter, and olive oil in a microwave-safe dish. Heat for 1 minute on high. 
  3. Open/cut the baguette, leaving it attached in the middle, so it opens like a book. Brush garlic butter/oil mixture on both cut sides of the bread. Place a single layer of provolone slices on one cut side of the bread. Sprinkle with parsley, mozzarella, and Parmesan cheese. 
  4. Close the loaf and wrap in foil, rolling the foil down on both the long and short ends of the bread. Place on a cookie sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes. Cut into 8-10 pieces and serve warm! 

Dorothy Lane Market Culinary Center

6161 Far Hills Ave, Dayton

937.535.5696 |

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