Has this ever happened to you? "Mommy, I want us to make THAT!" as the child in question points to an elaborate, three tiered castle cake that would make Cinderella cry.
Cooking with your children can be enjoyable, exciting and rewarding. It can also be stressful, overwhelming and a drag if you start with a recipe that is too complicated. It's tempting to see a beautiful cake, a stunning pie or some delicious cake pops and decide that you and your children will whip them up on a Saturday afternoon. This can be completely fine - if you and your children are skilled in the kitchen. The vast majority of children, though, would be well served by beginning with a less adventurous recipe - especially if they do not have much cooking experience. A finicky recipe that doesn't turn out well can destroy a child's kitchen confidence - so far better to choose something with a high success rate.
Muffins are one such food.
An individually cooked quick bread, a muffin has several redemptive qualities when it comes to cooking with children. Muffins typically mix quickly, contain no finicky yeast and can often be tailored to the tastes of each child. They are usually free from fussy ingredients and don't need to be treated carefully. As a bonus, even the youngest chef can often handle the basic steps of muffin making. If you make mini muffins, they bake and cool amazingly quickly and you have almost instant gratification - very important for the wee ones. They make a yummy breakfast (my kids enjoy them with yogurt) and a satisfying lunch when paired with cheese.
One of my favorite muffins to make with my children - and one of their favorites to eat - is the Double Chocolate Banana Mini muffin. I've experimented with this recipe substantially and find that you can cut the sugar in half, substitute applesauce for the oil and even leave out the mini chocolate chips if you desire, and the taste of the muffin remains very close to the original. (Note - I didn't originally substitute applesauce for the oil due to any type of desire to sneak a fruit in - I happened to be out of oil and used the applesauce in a pinch. I am not a "vegetable sneaker" into my family's food.)
In a large mixing bowl, combine 1.5 cups of flour, 1 cup of sugar, 1/4 cup baking cocoa, 1/4 teaspoon baking powder and 1 teaspoon baking soda. Add 3 mashed overripe bananas, 1/3 cup vegetable oil and 1 egg. Mix until combined and stir in 1 cup of mini chocolate chips. Scoop into mini muffin cups that have been lined with paper cups and bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes.
Child appropriate steps: Measuring the ingredients, mixing, stirring in chocolate chips, using as small scoop to distribute the dough into the cups and possibly cracking the eggs. Depending upon your comfort level, of course.