July 13, 2010

10 Tips to make Pizza with Kids

Finally! Summer school with the kids started and I am very excited for two reasons: first, I love being back having kids around me; and second, the first summer section topic is "Italian cooking"! What a great way of spending my summer! Three weeks of Italian cooking with the kids, every day a new recipe. The idea is to blog about these recipes...probably not all, but at least the most significant. This is going to be a lot of fun!

Today it was the very first day and, as normal, the first day is always more messy and complicated. There were 10 kids and they were mixed age, from 2 years and 1/2 to 5 years and 1/2. Having mixed aged children is something we are not used to at the school. On one side, a three year old can carry out very different cooking tasks compared to a 4 or a 5 year old, and this can create organizational problems. On the other side, older children are useful as a guide to the youngest and so you can expect very interesting dynamics in a mixed aged class. So, as expected, today it was a bit messy but it was also a lot of fun!! 

Making pizza is not such a big deal and there are thousands of recipes and step by step posts about it. What I want to remark here, though, is that it can be a big deal making it with kids, above all for the kids themselves. Seeing that they can actually make a pizza (and a pretty good one!) is indeed a huge deal for them. So here I just wanted to suggest a few tips that I believe are worth following to make it both a memorable experience for them (and us) as well as a smooth one for grown ups. These tips are not only good for pizza making but also for any other recipes you will try with children. (Of course, if you are cooking only with your own kids things are a bit different and easier)

10 TIPS TO MAKE PIZZA (and other dishes) WITH KIDS

  1. Be well prepared! Don't think you can wake up one morning and say "today I'll make pizza with a bunch of kids....not given it too many thoughts but I'm sure it's a piece of cake for me...I'm cooking and baking all the time!". That, I believe, is the worst attitude in cooking with children. Even if you are a great chef and even if you are used to cooking with other grown ups, doing so with children is a whole different story. So: be prepared! This means, make sure you have the recipe with you and you have it mastered; and make sure you know all the ingredients needed and the method on the top of your head. As part of "be prepared" make sure you have the ingredients, tools needed and method written down (see as I have done it below)
  2. Test the recipe in advance. As a general rule (and because, again, you need to know the recipe on the top of your head) make only previously tested recipes.
  3. If possible, work with small groups (3 to 5 kids, depending on their age and the recipe) and even then make sure you have one tool for every child, i.e. one mat, one rolling pin, one spoon, etc. You don't want them to be fighting over a rolling pin while you are covered in flour and they do need a feeling of ownership to really take the most out of the cooking experience.
  4. Set up an "exposition tray": on a tray, put a very little amount of each ingredient required for the dough and every possible topping (in the case of the pizza). Let them touch them, smell them, taste them. Let them experiment with the ingredients, gain confidence with them, have fun with them. If you put only a little amount of the ingredients on the "exposition tray" you will not mind if they throw the flour in the air or drop some tomato sauce...it will not be enough to make a disaster on them or on the house/school.
  5. As I mentioned above, let every child feel ownership of the process while taking into account age-appropriate activities. If you have a mixed age group you can let the smaller one pour and stir and the older one cut and grate, for example. If they are all the same age they can do every step of the recipe at the same time.
  6. Don't be in a hurry! Never ever ever be in a hurry with children. Neither when you are making a sandwich nor when you are making a cake! Even less so with pizza. Make sure you have enough time to make the dough and let it rise. Compared to cookies, cakes, and other dishes, pizza (and in general bread-related recipe) take a longer time due to the rising time. If you do not have enough time, consider making the dough yourself in advance and have the children get a small ball of dough each and roll it out and put the topping, etc.
  7. Be realistic! And as a consequence, be aware of what are the different age-appropriate activities. Don't expect a two year old to cut or even to make a nice round pizza! Don't expect a six years old to make a souffle'! Be realistic about what you can expect from them. At the same time...
  8. Be creative! If children cannot be expected to execute very complicated dishes, it is also true that they can do much more than what many grown ups think! The important thing is to be prepared and to give them the right tools for them to be safe. And above all, be creative and you will be able to make amazing things. 
  9. Have clear "goals". You should always remember that what really matters is the process and not the end result. Even though we would love to make pizza with them and then ending up with a yummy AND beautiful pizza for dinner, we should always remember that the most important thing for the children growth is the process of making it themselves and not the fact that they obtained a perfectly round pizza or that the cheese was evenly distributed etc. 
  10. Have fun! Cooking and baking with children should be a fun activity, for you and for them. There are many things you can do as side activities to make it even more fun. You can tell them the story of the pizza, for example, you can make a field trip to the groceries to pick their favorite fruits and veggies if you are making a veggie dish, you can have them draw how they would like their cake to be decorated, etc. There are really an infinite number of activities that you can do with them to make the cooking and baking even more fun and to entertain them while the dough is raising or a cake is in the oven. Make a booklet of these recipes, make them talk about what they have just cooked, make them even re-make the same dish and they will start getting really into it. Again, have fun! If you don't, it's not worth doing it!

Finally, I would like to add a comment about yeast. There are many debates about the superiority (or not) of fresh yeast vs dry yeast. Here is a link to what the San Francisco Baking Institute says about it, plus the rule for converting fresh yeast weight into dry yeast weight.

You can also check out this basic info about yeast and this one at Wild Yeast.

And here is the recipe

Pizza Crust
yield 1 big pizza or 4-5 smaller individual ones

250 gr (8.8 oz or 1 cup and 5 tsp) flour + extra for the surface
150 ml (5.1 fl oz) water
12.5 gr (1 tbsp) fresh yeast or 5 (1 tsp) gr instant dry yeast*
1 and 1/2 tbps extra-virgin oil
5 gr (1 tsp) salt (max)
1 pinch sugar

toppings: as desired

1 big bowl
1 mat for every child
1 rolling pin for every child
1 tray
1 small bowl for every ingredient to put on the "exposition tray"
1 baking pan for every pizza to bake
spoons and measuring cups

*I usually use instant dry yeast, above all when cooking with children because it is easier and less messy to handle. See above for more comments on this.

In a big bowl, put the flour and the instant dry yeast and make a whole in the center. (If you use fresh yeast you will need to dissolve it separately in a small bowl with some warm water and the sugar and add it later together with the other wet ingredients).

In a small bowl, mix the salt into a glass of warm water, let it dissolve and pour the mixture into the center of the flour. Add the sugar and the oil and start mixing with your hands. Keep some flour and the remaining water close, so that you can add them slowly until the dough reaches the desired consistency. You should obtain a soft and pretty elastic dough. 

When the dough reaches the desired consistency give it the shape of a ball and put it into a big plastic bowl, dusted with some flour. Cover it with a wet kitchen towel and put it in a warm place. For the dough to rise well, it is very important that (1) the bowl is made by plastic and not glass or steel and (2) you put the bowl in a warm place and you do not move it until the dough has risen. (I usually put it into the oven)

Let the dough rise until double in bulk (1 hour - 1 hour and 1/2) and the roll it out. Cover the pizza with the desired topping and cook it in the oven at 480F for 15 minutes. (if it is a basic pizza, like pizza margherita. Cook it for longer time if there is meat on top)



  1. hello, I work with children and I agree with you, if you wnat to participate at my first contest La cuisine en rose...

  2. Grazie per avermi segnalato il tuo blog! E' bellissimo! E il tuo primo contest arriva proprio al momento giusto: ho postato oggi una ricetta rosa! Complimenti per il blog...e per il libro!

  3. i'm a mom of two and would love to involve my little ones when i cook. so glad i stumbled upon your blog! i hope you continue to share more of your adventures with and your thoughts about engaging kids in the kitchen.

  4. Thanks for stopping by Pat. I already have a few more recipes with kids in my plan to post...I'm just trying to find the time to select some decent pictures....it's very hard to get some good ones while you are covered with flour :) come back soon!


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