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{Review} Equipping Kids to Cook with Curious Chef Tools

Curious Chef 16-piece cupcake and decorating setMy kids have expressed an interest in helping in the kitchen practically since they could talk. At times, this was exasperating, but I tried to be patient as there is so much value to letting kids cook. In addition to teaching them a lifetime skill and getting them interested in preparing healthy foods, letting kids cook has been proven to help with math (all those fractions and equations involved when altering recipes), and may even reduce their chances of getting involved with drugs. There are many other benefits as well — improved reading skills, bonding time with family, real-life application of science, and more! So why doesn’t everyone do it?

In my very informal observation of friends who don’t encourage their kids to join them in preparing a meal, there are a few consistent objections:

  • Patience: It can take longer when kids are helping and they may not do everything “right”
  • Mess: Cooking can be messy, and more so with kids
  • Safety: Fears about kids getting burned or injuring themselves with a knife2015-07-07 Curious Chef Making Muffins w Lorelei 044

I had all of the same concerns above when my kids started joining me in the kitchen, but I also have a Montessori-influenced approach to parenting. (My children have a very headstrong approach to being kids — they always want to try everything whether I think they are ready to or not!) In addition to encouraging cooking (Montessori school kids often have to prepare and bring in their own lunches at a very tiny age), the Montessori method encourages providing child-sized tools for any job.

This is why I was intrigued by the Curious Chef line of kitchen tools. Embracing the many benefits of having kids in the kitchen, they produce cheerful, right-sized tools for kids. They asked me to try out their products2015-07-07 Curious Chef Making Muffins w Lorelei 078 and sent me a cupcake set and a 16-piece cupcake and decorating set and a 3-piece nylon knife set.

It turns out that the cupcake set was the perfect thing to cheer up JavaGirl (age 9) while her brother was away at camp. We had a jam-packed schedule, but in between her vacation bible school camp and horseback riding lesson, we quickly cooked up some cupcakes in the six-spaces tin. They have a recipe on the side of the box that is yields six cups, but inexplicably, I had every type of flour EXCEPT self-rising in my pantry that day! So we grabbed a box of cake mix and used that instead. In the interests of time we used pre-made frosting rather than mixing up our own from the directions provided.

What I was most interested in seeing was how the silicone cups would work (separate inserts that went into the metal pan, rather than a silicone pan). I have used some silicone tools, but I have never used these before. And because I’m perpetually curious, I decided to use our leftover cake batter to cook cupcakes in another pan of mine, in paper wrappers, to see if it would make a difference (JavaGirl loves the idea of an experiment).

2015-07-07 Curious Chef Making Muffins w Lorelei 208

The cupcake on the left was baked in the silicone cup, the one on the right was in a paper wrapper.

The cupcakes cooked beautifully and were very moist. The silicone cups kept the pan clean and the cupcakes came out of them easily. (Note the silicone cups can be washed in the dishwasher but are also easy to handwash.) When compared to the ones in the paper cups, we found that the ones in the Curious Chef cups/pan were more evenly baked and much moister. (Which may be true of any brand of silicone cups — these were just the first ones we had ever used.)

Next: Decorating

JavaGirl has decorated cakes using my Wilton bags and tips before, in fact, earning her American Heritage Girls Cake Decorating badge. But the Curious Chef set comes with a plunger-type of decorating system. The tips screw onto the end without requiring additional rings. There are five shapes of tips including one that would allow you to inject something into the middle of a cupcake. I really wanted to try that one, but JavaGirl wasn’t interested in that that day and time was tight, so, um, I may be using her tools another day! Though I was able to use the plunger (to demonstrate how to use it), it is nicely sized for children’s hands and in my opinion, is definitely easier for kids to use than a decorating bag. And also, easier to clean.  If there were one addition I would recommend to Curious Chef, it would be to include a small tip-cleaning brush and mesh bag (to hold tips while in the dishwasher), fortunately I already had both. The sixteenth piece of the set is a packet of blank recipe cards with stickers.

2015-07-07 Curious Chef Making Muffins w Lorelei 159JavaGirl enjoyed working with the decorating set and would’ve happily fiddled with it for quite a while if we had not been in a hurry.

Incidentally, the set also include a nylon mixing spoon, which again, is a nice size for kids, and a nylon frosting spreader which worked well for JavaGirl.

A final note on the set — at first I was a little surprised that the pan was only for 6 servings, but when I thought more about it, I like this. When we are cooking just for ourselves, 6 is just right and none of those extra cupcakes hanging out for days. Also, JavaGirl and I discussed other ways we could use the pan/silicone cups. Of course we could make muffins, but in our family, we’ve been enjoying making some of the many “muffin pan recipes” out there including breakfast eggcups (think scrambled eggs with seasonings and cut up veggies). We plan to try those out in this set soon to see how they come out versus just in our regular pan and the small size is convenient.

Overall, the set was a huge hit with JavaGirl, despite the fact she already has access to so many tools. She felt pride in this being HER set. And don’t think this is just for girls, JavaBoy tends to cook even more than JavaGirl, so I think he’ll end up using this a lot as well.

Child-sized Cutting Tools

IMG_2377The nylon knife set, on the other hand, got a mixed reaction from JavaGirl. When she was a preschooler, I started her out with a different kind of safety knife, and she has since progressed to using my Wusthof knives. However, I still worry at times about her injuring herself, so I was very intrigued to see how these would workout. Initially, she rejected them, claiming they required more pressure on her part. I tried one out on a few different things such as tomatoes, celery, and peaches — they could cut them all, but did require a little more pressure on harder materials. (Cut the tomato well, however!) Yet just last night, I caught JavaGirl using one of the nylon knives to slice up a peach. So my thoughts are that if you are holding back on letting your child cook due to fear of injury from knives, this is a great option. If your child already safely uses knives, you may or may not be interested in this set — there is some peace of mind with them using a nylon knife, but it has a different “feel” to it. By the way, in holding the knife myself, I oddly found it to be nicely “balanced,” not something I was expecting in a knife like this.

In terms of overall quality, I felt like the pan, silicone cups, and all the nylon tools were great. The decorating plunger was not flimsy but didn’t feel quite as “heavy duty” to me as the other tools, however, this is the first time I’ve used a plunger frosting tool  so I have can’t compare it to an “adult-sized” plunger tool. The finger holes on it worked well for both JavaGirl and I, which is a huge plus because it means parents are able to comfortably demonstrate how to use it to kids. (Also, JavaGirl is left-handed, I am right-handed, and it worked well for both of us.)

The cupcake and decorating set retails for $24.99 on the Curious Chef site, but I also noticed that it retails for less (and is also currently on sale tor additional savings) on Amazon.com (note this link includes my Amazon Associates code. The nylon knife set retails for $8.99 on the Curious Chef (more on the Amazon site, so price shop for any of the tools in this line.) The Curious Chef has many products, including child-sized oven mitts and aprons, food prep tools such as vegetable peelers, and much more. They are all cute and I think any child would feel proud to own any of them.

Whatever tools you use, try to find some time to get your kids in the kitchen with you. You’ll build some wonderful memories together and sneak in some educational benefits as well!

Disclosure: The Curious Chef provided me with the 16-piece cupcake and decorating set and 3-piece nylon knife set for the purpose of review. All opinions are my own (or JavaGirl’s) and were not influenced by receiving the complimentary items. This post contains links that allow you to purchase the items if you are interested in them, including links to Amazon.com, of which I am an Associate. If you purchase these or other items from Amazon.com through the provided link, I may receive a tiny percentage from Amazon, which will help support this site.

Things I Love: E-Mealz.com Menu Planner

Things I Love logoI am the opposite of a domestic goddess — does that make me a domestic demon? I have tried to put together weekly and monthly menu plans and I’m just terrible at it. There comes a time when you have to admit defeat and outsource! My neighbor “M” is a relatively new stay-at-home mom (SAHM) and yet seems to have her act far more together than I do as a veteran SAHM so I asked her about her menu planning and she pointed to her oh-so-organized bulletin board in her kitchen and a print out from E-mealz.com. “They plan everything out, it usually has five ingredients or less, and it has the shopping list all organized for you,” she told me as our children played chaotically in the background.

It took me a while to get around to it — I mean I have literally shelves and shelves of cookbooks and two recipe boxes, surely I could manage to do this on my own?! But finally I caved in and signed up. And now I’m kicking myself for not doing it sooner. JavaBoy has always been a challenge when it has come to non-dairy proteins, and yet, he has loved every recipe from E-Mealz. I have him review the week’s recipes beforehand to see if there is anything he won’t like and so far he’s approved every option, even the ones I was certain he wouldn’t like, and he’s eagerly gobbled them down. JavaGirl, who is going through an I’m-five-so-my-tastes-change-by-the-hour phase, has also enjoyed all the meals. Whenever possible, I involve them in the cooking because I always find that helps them get more excited about the meals.  The service has different selections of plans: standard, portion-controlled, budget-friendly, low-carb, gluten-free, natural/organic, and vegetarian.  Because I am diabetic, we are using the low-carb version.

We have been trying some recipes that I probably wouldn’t have picked out myself and yet my family really enjoyed, so this has been a good way to push ourselves. Although we aren’t doing the “budget” plan, I’ve found it to be economical and we are certainly wasting less food because I’m not buying stuff with the intention to cook it and never getting around to it. Because I tend to cook the larger size of the range of the recipe (i.e. if it says 1.5 – 2.25 pounds of meat, I choose 2.25 pounds) we have plenty of leftovers to use for lunch for myself and my husband (and sometimes the kids ask if they can take the leftovers for lunch for school!) or even to have a second night of dinner. Often there is a crockpot night or two, which I love, especially for the nights when my kids have choir practice. Though it kills me to smell that wonderful food when I’m home during the day.

I cannot tell you how much stress this has alleviated for us as a family. No trying to figure out what’s for dinner.  Grocery shopping is easier because we know what we’re going to eat and everything is listed for us. I go through the list and all the non-perishables that are needed for the week, I put into a clear storage box in the butler’s pantry so that it doesn’t accidentally get used for something else and is also easy to find for that night’s meal (not only for myself but in case my husband ends up cooking that night — he doesn’t have to hunt up various spices and canned goods.)

I loved it when I explained to the kids we were having Hamburger Soup (really a variation of a beef and barley with vegetables) and JavaGirl said “show me the box” and I said, “No, Mommy made this from SCRATCH! It’s been simmering on the stove for two hours!” It really didn’t take long to put together and yet it was yummy and gave me a great sense of satisfaction to provide homemade soup for the family. Granted, “scratch” might have been a stretch as it did involve some canned tomatoes and canned broth, but there were fresh vegetables, barley, fresh spices, and of course, ground beef.

There are several meal planning services out there, I checked quite a few out and asked friends for recommendations and ultimately decided on this one because I liked the format, the sample menus they showed, the low cost and because my neighbor was so happy with it. If you are interested in researching them, enter the phrase “meal planning” in your favorite search engine. 

Things I Love will be an occasional series on Caffeine and a Prayer where I highlight items or services that make life in the Java household a little easier or just make me happy and I hope will delight you as well. Other than being a paid subscriber, I have no relationship with E-Mealz.com and they have no idea I’m writing about them — I’m just a really happy customer.