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Looking for a fun way to get your kids in the kitchen? Hold a Chopped Junior contest at home! All you need is a few staple foods, some kitchen space, cooking/prep tools, and at least one child who is creative and up for a challenge!
I started watching Chopped Junior with my kids to let them seechildren in thekitchen. They loved it so much that now we watch the show regularlyas a family. Chopped Junior is modeled after the hit show Chopped, and features kids in the 8-12 year range preparing dishes in a competition. There are 4 children at the beginning of each episode and 1 winner at the end. There are 3 courses/rounds: appetizer, entree, and dessert. Contestants are given a closed box of secret ingredients that they must use in their creation. They are given 20-30 minutes, depending on the round, to create an appropriate dish with those secret ingredients and they may use any other ingredients in the kitchen to make it happen. The dishes are judged at the end of each round and 1 person is “chopped.”
At home you can do a more relaxed and friendly version of Chopped Junior. Start with1 course and no childgets “chopped.” Your intent is not to pit your kids againsteach other, it’s aboutgetting them into the kitchen for some fun!
The last Chopped Junior at homewe did, the secret ingredients were ham, cheese, green onion, and eggs. Our kids are 5, 7, and 9. We were so impressed at their creativity! In the end we got everything fromgreen eggs and ham, to egg salad, to onion pie!
Begin by choosing the secret ingredient(s). The ingredients you choose shouldbe age appropriate. For younger children, basic kitchen staples are the best: cheese, butter, lunchmeat, bread, eggs, cucumber, carrot, tuna, etc. For a dessert round, choose fruit, yogurt, icecream, chocolate, peanut butter, marshmallows, etc. For older kids, step it up a notch with some interesting ingredients: sweet potatoes, dragon fruit, dried cranberries, shrimp, chili powder, tofu, etc. If there ismore than one secret ingredient, be sure to choose ingredients that are different, yet compliment one another (especially for younger kids).
Place your secret ingredient(s) in a box or bag and hide it from your children until you are ready to start. Each child needs the following at their station:
Secret ingredient box
Preparation tools (child-friendly knife, cutting board, peeler, can opener, cheese grater, etc)
Paper towels or dish towel
Next prepare them for the contest. We relish the kids with mini-interviews on what they love about cooking and what their favorite things to cook are. We announce them individually anddiscuss the rules ofChopped Junior, just to mimic the actual show. If you aren’t feeling it, you can skip all that. However, the kids really love it when the parents get into the spirit!
Give the kids a rundown of the rules:
Theymust use the secret ingredient(s) in their dish.
They are allowed to use any other ingredient in the kitchen to prepare their dish.
They must finish their dish in the time allowed.
Ready, set, go! Start the timer and let them use their culinary imagination! Support them if they need it – answer questions, offer up suggestions, help them find ingredients and help them use kitchen equipment. You will be amazed at what they come up with!
When their time is up, they will individually present their dishes to you. We judge in the following categories (1-5 stars):
Station cleanliness (this one is important, otherwise you will have a huge mess on your hands!)
Have each child explain what their dish is, how they came up with the idea (age appropriate), and if there was any challenges they encountered in preparing the dish.
At the end of the judging, announce the winner (recipient of the most stars), while of course giving praise to everyone for participating! Compliment each child’s dish and discuss the uniqueness of each one. There is no “chopping” at our home, partly because we don’t want anyone with a “loser” complex and partly because we don’t have the energy to do more than one round. However, if you want to be true to the “Chopped Junior” show, then “chopping” should be an option.
Your Chopped Junior at home contestcan be easily adjusted according to your children’s ages and experience in the kitchen. Chopped Junior at home can be done with even the youngest kids! Here are some pointers to plan your contest:
Start with 1 secret ingredient for the younger crowd and add more secret ingredients for older kids.
Don’t add ingredients that need to be cooked until your kids are responsible and ready for that kind of preparation.
Don’t add ingredients that require the use of a knife until your kids are ready (you can purchase plastic knives for small hands at the Montessori Supply Store in Santa Rosa).
Allow them plenty of time so they are not rushed! Place a very long time limit on younger kids (or none at all).
For younger kids who do not necessarily know their way around the kitchen, place helper ingredients and tools in their workspace for them. Or you can gather their ‘helper’ ingredients for them and place them in their workspace.
Encourage them to try their food while they prepare it (taste as they go). Remind them to season it too!
Place your kids in teams to work together for another option.
Start with a dessert round! Who doesn’t want to create something out of their favorite foods? Plus, they can help eat their dish afterwards.
This activity is guaranteed to not only build kitchen and food skills inyour children but will also instill in them independence, confidence, andcreativity. Not only do the kids love it, but youare preparing your budding chefs for a future of appreciation and enjoyment of food!