Stirring it Up:  Soups and Stews Your Little Ones Will Love to Cook

Cooking with my toddler in the kitchen is definitely a challenge, everything just takes twice as long to accomplish when a curious munchkin wants to “help.” They are constantly tugging on pant legs and saying “me see, me cook” and of course they want to stir and stir and stir whatever’s in the pot.

Even the youngest of kids can help get dinner on the table. Emphasis on help! Starting at 18 months, there are jobs little ones can do to lend a helping hand, such as emptying measuring cups full of ingredients into the pot and dropping the measuring cup into the sink (all while you’re holding her, of course). Once she’s older and a step stool isn’t a fall waiting to happen, they can stand at the sink to peel carrots or skin onions and garlic, as well as gather ingredients from the pantry and measure water or stock. And let’s not forget the fun of the ubiquitous stir, stir, stir.

For small kids, food and cooking is not so much about eating, but about exploring a grown-up’s world and learning new skills. There are lessons to be learned in the kitchen. It’s a great way to teach kids about nutrition and eating well, and also a nice reminder that dinner doesn’t just appear magically, but is cooked and prepared. For school age kids it’s also a fun way to learn about measurements and volume – younger siblings can count the number of ingredients in a recipe or name the colors of vegetables.  Sure there are some safety issues to consider­­—keep the sharp knives out of arm’s reach and the pots on the back of the stove—and just remember to keep a watchful eye.

Soups and stews are a great introduction to cooking. They can be super simple to prepare and they’re an ingenious way to sneak vegetables and protein in to even a picky eater’s diet. And most kids are much more likely to tuck into a warm bowl of soup if they’ve had a hand in its creation. Before dinner’s ready, enlist the help of your kids to set the table, fill water glasses and clean up the cooking mess. Who knows, the little ones might have so much fun that they volunteer to clean the dishes after dinner. But then again, you don’t want dad to feel left out, do you?

Jack-o-lantern soup: Sure it might be a little time consuming to hollow out little pumpkins for this festive fall soup, but what kid can resist eating out of a pumpkin? Look for smaller sugar pumpkins, sometimes called soup pumpkins – they’re easier to hollow out. Let your kids dig out the flesh using a metal serving spoon, although you may need to finish the job with a paring knife. Kids can also separate the seeds and stringy flesh from the pumpkin meat. Rinse the seeds, dry well and toss with olive oil and salt. To make the soup, roast the pumpkin meat in a 400 degree oven.  When it’s slightly cooled, puree with chicken stock, a dash of soy sauce or tamari and a little honey. If you’d like leftovers to have for lunch during the week, add one large can of pumpkin puree and a little extra chicken stock or water. Keep a bowl of toasted pumpkin seeds on the table so that kids can use them to garnish their soup.

Mac-n-cheese soup: A perennial favorite among kids of all ages, elbow macaroni can be made into a crowd pleasing cheese soup. Add broccoli for extra nutrients and flavor (kids can pull apart the florets). To make the soup, saute onion in a little butter and add a couple tablespoons of flour (being careful not to burn), whisk in a cup of chicken stock and a cup of whole milk on low to medium heat (older kids can gently whisk the liquids). Add two cups of kid-grated sharp cheddar cheese (keep in mind that reduced or low-fat cheeses won’t work as well. You didn’t hear it from me, but Velveeta, if you’re up for it, is actually a great option since it melts so well. Stir in the broccoli florets and a cup of cooked elbow macaroni.

Baked potato soup: Have your kids scrub a few potatoes and roast them at 450 degrees in the oven. Once they’re baked and cooked, kids can scoop the insides into a big pot. Whisk in a combination of milk and chicken stock to thin the potatoes into soup consistency and season well with salt and pepper. Let your little ones prepare bowls of baked potato toppings for garnish, including crumbled bacon, chives, sour cream and grated cheddar.

Easy tortellini soup: Nothing is easier than this Italian classic made with convenient frozen tortellini and frozen peas and carrots. This is a great soup for younger kids to help prepare because there are no knives involved. Before you even turn on the heat, let your helper put all the ingredients in the pot: chicken stock, a cup of frozen tortellini (cheese, meat or spinach) and frozen peas and carrots. Let your little chef top her bowl with grated Parmesan cheese.

No-peeking stew: This is a meal that can be made early in the day and left to cook on low heat until it’s time for dinner – it will make the whole house smell delicious. While you brown the stew meat, kids can peel the pearl onions (or you can buy them already peeled and frozen), scrape or peel carrots and measure out the peas. Add the vegetables to the pan along with a large can of stewed tomatoes and enough beef stock to cover. Cover and simmer on low for four to five hours (no peeking!). Add salt and pepper to taste.

Melon and berry soup: Call it dessert and your kids will be instantly intrigued. Using a metal spoon, have your helpers de-seed a cantaloupe (or honeydew melon) and wash and a pint of berries (blackberries or raspberries work well). Add water to thin and just a touch of sugar to sweeten. Puree in a blender and serve chilled.


Marcia Whyte Smart is a freelance food writer who has contributed to Cooking Light, Parenting and Sunset magazines. Visit her blog at and sign up for her newsletter to receive weekly family-friendly meal plans and recipes.



Ah, budgets.  They stink.  The only reason anyone would ever DIY is to save money, right?  Unless you have a burning desire to “craft”.  Which can be fun, but let’s be realistic…who has time for crafts, in our fast-paced world of kids’ activities, social media, work, social calendars, friends, family, etc.  I honestly can’t wait to be a grandma, so I can craft and fuss around with my herbs.  Life will be so relaxing, I’ll craft all night and day!


I grew up in a DIY family.  My mom, affectionately known to my inner circle as “Mad Alice”, partly because of her inability to stop crafting when she got rolling, was the Queen of Michael’s in the 1980s.  My sister, Caroline, and I spent countless hours painting wooden shelves with heart shaped cutouts (in mauve, no less) and vintage Santas for the holidays, dipping candles and stirring soaps on the kitchen stove, all in the DIY spirit.  We were never as meticulous as Mom was, that’s for sure and we most definitely would have been able to take a trip to Paris with all of that DIY money that was wasted, but we wouldn’t have had near the fun or memories if we hadn’t tried.  Look at me, I am actually blogging about it!


Last month, I thought I would save myself about $150 if I painted my own dessert banner for my daughter’s fifth birthday.  I patched it on the back with tape to create the height that I needed, as I had seen my calligrapher do.  It was “good enough” but not what I wanted to see.  I tried again.  Strike two.  I finally decided that I needed to get some foam core board from Texas Art Supply and try a third time.  My sweet husband had taken our Suburban with the three kids and when I tried to fit the board in his sedan, it was too big no matter which angle I shoved.  My last-ditch effort was to hold it out of the sunroof and drive SLOWLY home.  One whip of the wind and the dang thing nearly broke my wrist trying to fly away.  For all of this fun and excitement, I think in hindsight, I’d just pay the $150 and call it a day!  #wasteoftime  


My sister, however, is our mother’s daughter.  She refuses to pay top dollar to have someone do what she knows she can do herself.  To use my friend, Megan-from-Charleston’s words, “bless it!”.  Seriously, the girl has painted stripes on her concrete patio, tacked wood vinyl on her bedroom ceiling, drilled holes in her cabinets to affix brass handles and laid a flagstone path to her swimming pool.  The woman is a force!  You gotta commit some serious skills, that which I do not have much left after dealing with all the balls that I have in the air.      


To me, the answer lies in your satisfaction at the end of the day.  Surely, no one would notice my “I WANT CANDY” banner at a 5-year-olds birthday party, however it meant something to me that it look perfect.  I think my friends and family would have me certified, however, none of those fools are making a living in the events industry.  I say, give it a try if you have the luxury of time and want to stay in budget.  If you have the resources to let the “pros” tackle the job, by all means, go for it!  Send me a pic if it turns out, or even better, if it doesn’t!      



Nothing makes me crazier than a fabulous gala with all of the details forgotten.  Trays that are old and don't match, paper goods that look like they were run through someone's home printer in a generic font that came free with the computer program...and nondescript chicken satay skewers with a peanut dipping sauce (forgive me if this is a favorite of yours, it just feels a little tired).  I say to myself, "did I put on a pair of heels for THIS?!"  

The advent of social media, especially Instagram and Pinterest, has done wonders for all things visual.  We are exposed to so much more and have the power to ask for what we want, simply because we can produce a picture and say "like this, please!"  We have made a few frenemies in the industry by asking a lot of questions for our clients.  "What does the waitstaff wear?"  "What do you serve your drinks on?"  "How are they garnished?"  "What does the mobile bar look like?"  "Can we bring in our own flowers or cake?"  All of these questions, while they may seem silly, seemingly tend to invoke irritation in a long-standing or well-established venue.  To me, it feels like they think, "why are you questioning the way we do things around here?  You should just do it the way we do it and be thrilled with it!".  Yes, anyone can provide food and flowers, but is that really a rocking' party?  No one wants to stand around with their feet hurting at another uninspiring event.  I, personally, would rather be home in bed with Dateline on the tube.     

Six years ago, I had no idea what Pinterest was.  I ran out of printer ink two times over, printing images for my own wedding in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  I pinned them to a large piece of framed art and tried to make certain my "Ralph Lauren, American Indian" feel was working.  I spent ungodly amounts of time searching for the best wedding blogs, drug my fabulous designer friend, Laura Dalton (, to the Decorative Center to look for fabrics and in general, wasted a ton of time and energy.  If only Pinterest had been a part of my planning process!  I can now see how people are setting the table, which drinks are en vogue, which calligraphy styles are my new favorite.  It is a wealth of creatives boasting their wares, in hopes that you'll "like" their image, follow their account or what have you.  It is truly incredible!

Big events have big budgets, but all budgets are exactly that -- a budget.  People don't realize that a lot of the "details" don't have to cost a fortune.  Don't let the venue speak for itself, go the extra mile if you want to create an environment where people don't just "stop by".  Consider using anything but a black, slip resistant tray for drinks, see if you can add some special touches via fun paper goods, do the unexpected.  Chances are, you can value engineer something to make room for the details, just ask the pros (or the venue, if you are working directly with one).  So if you see something that you love on Pinterest or Instagram, ask for it.  The world is your oyster, even if your pocketbook might not think so.  All you have to do is ask.