These Cooking Boxes Teach Kids How to Cook
There isn’t really a wrong way to teach a kid to cook: If they’re in the kitchen and getting involved with preparing a meal in some way, it’s pretty much a win, right?
Children’s cookbooks, whether aimed at the chicken-nugget set, or written for a more sophisticated eater, can be great. What may be even better is ditching the cookbook, making a simple dish like scrambled eggs, and letting your 8-year-old take the reins. Developing culinary skills, understanding how ingredients work together, allowing kids to make mistakes — aside from, you know, cutting or burning themselves — these may be the best, most effective building blocks of growing a lifelong love of cooking.
That’s the thinking behind eat2explore and Little Sous, two new-ish companies with the goal of showing kids how to tap into their creativity and independence while developing their own tastes and food preferences. There are no hot dogs, chicken nuggets, or broccoli-and-cheddar sides here. Instead, think Brazilian feijoada (black bean stew), Greek lamb burgers, homemade yogurt, and sauerkraut.
“Why dumb kids’ food down?” asks Rowena Scherer, founder of eat2explore. “Their palates are just as sophisticated as ours — they just need to be developed,” she says.
The former financial exec, French Culinary Institute grad, and mom of two grew up in Malaysia and has lived all over the world; she now lives in New York. The company that Scherer started in 2017 now offers over a dozen different “explorer boxes,” from Singapore, Lebanon, India, and a range of other countries — as well as the Northern and Southern U.S. They can be purchased a box at a time, or through a monthly subscription. Each box includes shelf-stable spices and sauce mixes, three recipes (you shop for the fresh ingredients), and an array of instant-gratification collectibles, such as cooking tools, activity sheets, a flag pin and a passport with stickers to fill it.
I tried the Singapore box with my kids, ages 6 and 9, and the chicken satay was such a hit with my 6-year-old that he wanted the leftovers in his school lunchbox the next day. I should note that my kids are pretty good eaters and cook often, but they’ve never tried Singaporean cuisine (and frankly, could I have even told you much about it before this exercise? Probably not.). The recipes were easy to follow, and there was plenty for the kids to do. An 11- or 12-year old could probably navigate the recipes without any adult help.
Omitting fresh ingredients means the boxes don’t really expire, but more importantly, they allow the recipient to adapt recipes. Vegetarian? Use tofu. Prefer chicken over shrimp? Go for it. Eat2explore encourages experimentation; Scherer wants kids to see how free and fun cooking can be without being tethered to strict instruction.
Little Sous is equally liberating. These boxes offer “evergreen” cooking experiences that go far beyond recipes, a subscription or a la carte option. There’s a noodle box that teaches kids how to make fresh, Italian-style pasta, as well as zucchini noodles. Another one (hilariously called “It’s Alive!”) instructs families on how yeast works, shows them how to grow edible sprouts from seeds, and explains fermentation via lessons on making yogurt and sauerkraut. Each box includes a tool, and a gadget or non-perishable ingredient, as well as the lesson, recipes, a coloring poster, and stickers.
My family and I gave the cheese box a try and made our own ricotta — something I had no idea was so easy to do — which we then used in fluffy ricotta pancakes and dolloped over our pasta. The instructions on building a cheese board also went over well with both of my kids (because who doesn’t love a cheese plate?).
Kelly Montoya, the founder of Little Sous, is of the mind that we often don’t give kids enough credit, especially when it comes to cooking and eating. A longtime magazine publisher, content creator (and a mom!), she founded the company in 2018 with Nick Fauchald — the James Beard Award-winning cookbook author and publisher of Short Stack Editions — after realizing that her daughter was capable of much more than many kids’ cookbooks offered.
“There’s a way to do it for kids that doesn’t necessarily have to dumb it down,” she says.
To that end, Little Sous recipes appeal to both kids and adults. “Our goal is to teach kids how to cook and give them the tools to be creative, but also to give families a way to connect.”
Little Sous began as a website and newsletter, and they’re expanding in every direction, too, establishing partnerships and firming up plans to sell in retail outlets. Meanwhile, eat2explore is continuing to add more cuisines, and Scherer hopes to offer other boxes down the line, themed to holidays or desserts. The sweet spot for both eat2explore and Little Sous is around ages 5 to 12, when kids are old enough to be able to follow directions but still may need a little hand-holding.
Perhaps what eat2explore and Little Sous are doing isn’t so much redefining what our culture has come to know as “kid-friendly” food, as disregarding it altogether. Because, as it turns out, kids can be capable, inventive and curious cooks — when we let them.
Lynn Andriani is a food writer living in New York City. Her work has appeared on Oprah.com, MarthaStewart.com, CNTraveler.com and Food52.