Welcome to week 7 of Kitchen Classroom, where America’s Test Kitchen Kids is sharing a daily schedule of kid-tested and kid-approved recipes and hands-on experiments and activities. We hope you and your young chefs have been making some delicious things to eat and learning along the way.
This week, young chefs will explore the power of salt: They’ll see how a sprinkle of salt changes the flavor of a variety of foods and they will experience the interplay of salty and sweet in a cookie “reciperiment” (a recipe that is also a science experiment). They’ll also discover the secrets to ultracreamy Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese and Creamy Dreamy Tomato Soup (spoiler: neither secret is cream), shake up a batch of flavored simple syrups, and use their syrups to create flavored seltzers. Finally, the whole family can make some No-Bake Energy Bites to snack on over the weekend.
Don’t forget to share what your family makes by tagging @testkitchenkids or using #atkkids on Instagram, or by sending photos to firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit the America’s Test Kitchen Kids website for more culinary content designed especially for kids, plus all of the Kitchen Classroom content in one convenient location.
If you're looking to get your kids moving and active, our partners at BOKS (Build Our Kids' Success)—a free physical activity program designed to get kids active and establish a lifelong commitment to health and fitness—have created BOKS at Home. Their site includes games, workouts, and mindfulness activities designed specifically for kids.
Here’s what’s cooking for the week of April 27th through May 3rd.
Monday, April 27 — Make It Your Way Challenge: Get Salty
Salt is an amazing, and often underrated, ingredient. Not only does salt have its own taste, it also amps up the flavor of just about any food it’s added to. This activity challenges kids to explore their pantry, refrigerator, freezer, or garden and discover what foods taste even better with a sprinkle of salt. Kids gather a bunch of different foods (we recommend trying both sweet and savory options), take a bite or sip of each without salt, and then taste again after they add a sprinkle of salt. They might be surprised by how much the flavor changes!
[GET THE ACTIVITY]
What You’ll Need
Use what you have in your pantry, refrigerator, freezer, or garden
Science (Chemistry; Geology):
All the salt we eat is made of a compound called sodium chloride—one sodium ion joined with one chloride ion. Scientists abbreviate it as “NaCl.” Professional chefs (and lots of home cooks) usually have three different varieties of salt on hand: table salt, kosher salt, and sea salt. Ask kids to find and gather all of the varieties of salt you have in your kitchen. Sprinkle a little of each type of salt on a dark surface, such as a piece of black construction paper. Have kids observe the salt crystals up close (this is a great time to use a magnifying glass or microscope if you have one). How would kids describe the size and the shape of each type of salt crystals? How are they similar? How are they different? Let kids taste a tiny bit of each variety of salt, taking a sip of water in between. Do they taste the same or different? How so?
Kids can see images of table salt, kosher salt, and flaky sea salt under a microscope and learn about when to use each type of salt in cooking and baking in this article. They can learn more about where the salt we eat comes from (and even make their own flaky salt) in this activity.
Tuesday, April 28 — Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese
Macaroni and cheese is one of the ultimate comfort foods and this simple stovetop version relies on a special ingredient for its extra creamy texture: American cheese. Special salts in American cheese make it really good at melting—and also keep this sauce creamy and smooth.
(Make sure to use thinly sliced American cheese from the deli section of your grocery store, not individually-wrapped cheese “singles,” which are made from different ingredients.) If you’ve got some leftovers around the kitchen, let kids add toppings or stir-ins to their macaroni and cheese: cooked veggies, halved cherry tomatoes, chopped bacon, and shredded chicken are all tasty additions.
[GET THE RECIPE]
What You’ll Need
1½ cups water
1 cup milk
2 cups (8 ounces) elbow macaroni
8-10 slices (4 ounces) deli American cheese
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese
Math (Weight & volume):
To make this macaroni and cheese as creamy as possible, it’s important to use just the right amount of each ingredient. Point out to kids that some of the ingredients in this recipe—the elbow macaroni, the American cheese, and the extra-sharp cheddar cheese—include measurements in ounces. Ounces are one way of measuring weight. If you are preparing ingredients using ounces, you’ll need a kitchen scale. There are 16 ounces in 1 pound. Challenge kids to use that information to help them calculate how many pounds of elbow macaroni, deli American cheese, and extra-sharp cheddar cheese they're using in this recipe. You can also tell them that 1 cup of water weighs 8 ounces. Using that information, can they calculate how many ounces of milk they’ll need to use in this recipe? (Click here for more kid-friendly information on measuring liquid ingredients and measuring dry ingredients.)
Elbow macaroni: 8 ounces = ½ pound
American cheese: 4 ounces = ¼ pound
Extra-sharp cheddar cheese: 4 ounces = ¼ pound
Milk: 1½ cups = 12 ounces
Take It Further
American cheese melts beautifully on burgers, fills gooey grilled cheese sandwiches, and makes this macaroni and cheese extra creamy. What makes it so good at melting? American cheese is made of cheese, but also other ingredients, including something called a melting salt. Melting salts help the proteins in American cheese separate, loosen up, and flow when they heat up—making American cheese a great melter. Melting salts also keep the fat and the water in the cheese mixed together in an emulsion, which means that the cheese stays smooth and creamy when it melts.
If you haven’t already, learn more about emulsions and special ingredients called emulsifiers (such as melting salts, mayonnaise, and mustard) in this hands-on, edible experiment.
Wednesday, April 29 — Simple Syrup & Flavored Seltzers
Adding sweetness and flavor to drinks couldn’t be simpler when you make your own simple syrup! In simple syrup, the sugar is dissolved in water, so it easily mixes into any drink, from iced tea to lemonade to seltzer. And it’s called “simple” because the formula is so easy to remember: equal parts water and sugar. You could boil the water and sugar to make simple syrup, but our method is even simpler and more fun: Give it a good shake! Adding fruit or herbs to the mix creates flavored syrups that take drinks to the next level. Kids can use what’s on hand in the fridge or freezer (frozen fruit is great in this recipe, just thaw it before using) to create their flavored syrups. Then, kids can use them to create their own Flavored Seltzers—no more buying them from the store!
[GET THE SIMPLE SYRUP RECIPE]
[GET THE FLAVORED SELTZER RECIPE]
What You’ll Need
For each batch of Flavored Simple Syrup:
⅔ cup (4⅔ ounces) sugar
⅔ cup (5⅓ ounces) water
1 flavor ingredient, such as lemon or lime zest, raspberries, strawberries, pineapple, or mint (see “Food for Thought” at bottom of recipe page for ideas)
For each serving of Flavored Seltzer:
1 cup plain seltzer
1 tablespoon Flavored Simple Syrup
Science (States of Matter):
This Simple Syrup recipe uses two ingredients, sugar and water, that happen to be in two different states of matter: a solid and a liquid, respectively. If they aren’t already familiar, introduce kids to the concept of matter. Matter is anything that takes up space. Our whole world is made of matter—people, animals, water, food, air, toys, houses, rocks, everything! Matter can exist in three different states: a solid, a liquid, or a gas. The sugar in this recipe is an example of a solid because each tiny crystal of sugar keeps its own shape as it moves around. The water is an example of a liquid; it doesn’t have its own shape, it takes the shape of whatever container is holding it, such as the liquid measuring cup. (Learn more about matter in this article from Britannica Kids.)
When you shake the solid sugar and liquid water into simple syrup, the sugar dissolves into the water, making the simple syrup what scientists call a solution. To help deepen their knowledge, ask kids:
- Is our simple syrup a solid or a liquid? How do you know? (It’s a liquid!)
- Look around your kitchen and in the refrigerator: Can you find other examples of solids and liquids? What are they? How did you know if it was a solid or a liquid? Did you find more solids or more liquids?
Thursday, April 30 — Brown Sugar Cookies
Have kids make this simple cookie recipe—with a science twist! They will create two baking sheets of cookies. When the cookies come out of the oven, sprinkle just one baking sheet with ½ teaspoon of coarse or flake sea salt (note that this is half the amount called for in the linked recipe). Then, once the cookies have cooled, kids can conduct a taste test. Have tasters eat a cookie without salt and then a cookie with salt on top and describe the flavor of each. What could be better than eating cookies in the name of science?
[GET THE RECIPE]
What You’ll Need
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (10⅔ ounces) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1¾ cups packed (12¼ ounces) dark brown sugar
14 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon coarse or flake sea salt
Science (Biology; Science Practices):
Baking these cookies as a “reciperiment” (recipe plus experiment) is a great opportunity for kids to engage in some scientific practices: Encourage kids to make predictions about whether they think salt will affect the flavor of the cookies (and explain their thinking). Kids can collect data about whether tasters preferred the cookies with or without salt and how tasters described the flavor of each. Then, as a family, review the data and discuss what they might mean about the relationship between salty and sweet (analyze your findings).
Then, they can learn about the biology behind how our tastebuds detect salty and sweet in the “Food for Thought” section, found at the bottom of the recipe page. In a nutshell: Tasters often find that the salted cookies taste sweeter than the unsalted cookies. Adding just a little salt—not enough to make something taste salty—can make food taste sweeter. Scientists only partially understand why this works. One theory is that salt blocks tastebuds from tasting bitterness. And if you taste less bitterness, your brain believes what you’re tasting is . . . sweeter!
Tasters might also have picked up other flavor differences in the salted cookies—they might have tasted nuttier and had a caramel flavor. Scientists say that salt can also bring out other flavors in food! However, they don’t totally understand how it works. Maybe your young chefs will be the scientists who figure it out!
Friday, May 1 — Creamy, Dreamy Tomato Soup
End the workweek with a bowl of classic, comforting tomato soup for lunch! This version is velvety smooth and creamy, but it doesn’t use any cream. The secret to its creamy texture? A slice of bread. During its spin in the blender, the soft bread gives the soup its signature creamy texture. Kids can have fun garnishing their soup with fresh herbs, croutons, or even a drizzle of plain yogurt or sour cream. Of course, you can always pair it with a melty Grilled Cheese Sandwich.
[GET THE RECIPE]
What You’ll Need
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped shallot
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
½ cup chicken or vegetable broth
1 slice hearty white sandwich bread
1 teaspoon packed brown sugar
Science (The Senses):
Challenge kids to pay attention to how they use all five of their senses while cooking—and eating—this recipe. What do they see, smell, hear, feel, and taste? See if they can make two observations for each of their five senses. Use the prompts below to help guide kids through this experience.
- Sight: How do the color and texture of ingredients change as they cook? (Examples include: shallots and garlic turning golden brown, shallots going from opaque to translucent, torn bread falling apart, etc.)
- Smell: How does the smell change as you add more ingredients to the pot?
- Sound: What do you hear as you cook the soup? (Examples include: sizzling shallots and garlic; bubbles breaking in the simmering soup; etc.)
- Touch: How does the bread feel as you use your hands to tear it into pieces? What does the soup feel like in your mouth as you eat it? If you add garnishes, how does that change the soup’s texture?
- Taste: How does the soup taste? Is it sweet? Sour? Salty? Bitter? Umami (savory)? A combination of those things?
Take It Further
Language Arts (Poetry):
We call this soup Creamy Dreamy Tomato Soup. Challenge kids to come up with a creamy, dreamy limerick about their lunch. (If that’s a bit too challenging, encourage them to have fun exploring rhyming words.) Limericks are five lines long. The first, second, and fifth lines all rhyme, and each line should contain 7 to 10 syllables. The third and fourth lines also rhyme and should contain 5 to 7 syllables. Here’s an example:
Oh, what should we eat for lunch?
Hey, I think I have a hunch!
A soup so creamy
It’s positively dreamy
I love tomato soup a bunch!
Saturday & Sunday, May 2 - 3 — Cranberry-Almond No-Bake Energy Bites
These super simple energy bites, originally published in My First Cookbook, were a hit with our at-home recipe testers and in the test kitchen. Our whole team—and their families—have been making and snacking on them since we developed the recipe, which is also customizable: You can add some chia seeds or ground flax seeds to the mix, or try the Chocolate-Raisin or Blueberry-Coconut flavor variations.
[GET THE RECIPE]
What You’ll Need
¾ cup (2¼ ounces) old-fashioned rolled oats
⅓ cup peanut, almond, or sunflower butter
⅓ cup sliced almonds
⅓ cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoons honey
⅛ teaspoon salt
Language Arts (Vocabulary):
Making this simple recipe presents a wonderful opportunity to help build kids’ vocabulary—and their observation skills. As you measure, ask kids to describe what each ingredient looks like (its appearance) and feels like (its texture). Share your observations, too (see examples, below). Then, as you are nibbling on the finished Energy Bites, ask kids what words they would use to describe their appearance and texture.
- Oats: Beige, oval, dry, coarse
- Peanut butter: Brown, sticky, gooey, smooth (or chunky)
- Sliced almonds: Hard, beige, smooth, flat
- Dried cranberries: Red, sticky, soft, wrinkled
- Honey: Sticky, gooey, translucent, yellow-orange
- Salt: White, rough, tiny, solid
- Energy Bites: Round, chunky, soft, chewy