5 Easy Steps to Invent a Recipe with Kids

Do you like to cooking with kids or do you yearn to cook with your child? Today we’re sharing five easy steps to invent a recipe with kids, which will get you into a creative cooking mindset. Think Master Chef + little kids = a fun afternoon.

But you might wonder, “why would I want to invent a recipe when I can easily follow a recipe?” The answer is that inventing recipes instills children with confidence to invent their own solutions to a problem, encourages independent thinking and problem solving skills, and teaches children how to find their way around a kitchen.

5 easy steps to invent a recipe with kids | TinkerLab

My house smells like pancakes.

Which really means that it smells like cooking oil and caramelized sugar. Sort of a happy, greasy smell that has lingered for days.

Every afternoon, for the past three days, my 3 year old turns into a kitchen alchemist as she gathers ingredients and invents her own recipes.

She is in heaven. And it gets even better once we cook the cakes up and proudly serve them up to hungry family members.

Do you ever give your kids free reign over your kitchen?

Experiments like this set children up with a real-life science experiment that fosters creativity, inventiveness, and problem-solving skills. It’s not for the faint of heart and you have to be okay with a bit of a mess, but I think the trouble is well worth it for the amount of creative confidence it builds in children.

So, after three straight days of wild pancake combinations, I present five lessons learned on how to invent recipes with kids…

Cooking with Kids: Invent a Recipe

How to Invent a Recipe with Kids | TinkerLab

Lesson #1…Get Familiar with the Kitchen.

If your child doesn’t know where things are, give him a little tour. And start with a simple cooking project that introduces him to some key ingredients and tools for a favorite recipe (such as a mixing bowl, mixing spoon, measuring spoon/cup, flour, and oil).

We spend a lot of time cooking together and my oldest (N) knows her way around the kitchen. She can find the biggest mixing bowl in the house, all the baking ingredients are at kid-level (this will no doubt pose a problem once her little sister figures this out), and we have amazing little foldable step stools like these that give her access to the fridge (unless she wants the butter…but we do have a taller stool for that).

How to Invent a Recipe with Kids | TinkerLab

Lesson #2…Come up with a General Plan.

In our case, N has been making pancakes, pancakes, and more pancakes. We tend to make a lot of pancakes in our house anyway (they’re not just for the weekends), so she’s super-familiar with the key ingredients and general direction of what might taste good together. For example, she didn’t pour ketchup into the batter (although if she did, I probably would have let it happen).

Do you have a favorite family recipe that you could riff off of? 

To start, she collected a few ingredients (white flour, wheat flour, flax seeds, and blueberries), and added them to the bowl. I tried to step back and allow her to make decisions about quantities, but every now and then I’d throw out a suggestion to help guide the journey.

As you can imagine, her pancake recipe has WAY more than the usual tablespoon of sugar (see the next picture), but it turns out that sugary pancakes are absolutely delicious.

invent a recipe with kids

Lesson #3…Green Light all Ingredients.

Of course you want to be safe about this, as things like raw meat and raw eggs need special handling, but try to keep an open mind as your child selects her ingredients. One of N’s batters had chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, mango juice, dried cranberries and walnuts in it. It was amazing.

The most recent batch contained raspberries, strawberry cream cheese, diced apples, and goat cheese. It was a bit chunky, and I’m not so sure about the goat cheese, but we drafted a recipe in case they end up being the best one yet.

Which bring me to the next lesson…

How to Invent a Recipe with Kids | TinkerLab

Lesson #4…Write the Recipe Down.

This is validating and makes the whole game so much more fun. As N added ingredients, I tried my best to write them down. Some things were carefully measured and others weren’t, but it didn’t really matter. I’m thrilled to have documentation of her first recipes and I’m sure she’ll treasure them as she gets older.

How to Invent a Recipe with Kids | TinkerLab

Lesson #5…Embrace a Good Experiment.

As we cooked, I repeated multiple times that this is a grand experiment and that we’d be surprised one way or the other. We chatted about how it’s possible that not one person has ever made this exact recipe, and that chefs go through a similar process when they invent something new. Like scientists, they hypothesize (what ingredients might taste good together?), they experiment (let’s make this batter with yogurt and the next with sour cream), and they test (how does it taste? which batch do we like better? why?).

How to Invent a Recipe with Kids | TinkerLab

After one of our cooking sessions, my husband took the kids off on a run in the stroller. These two hot cakes were eaten before they left the driveway, which I suppose speaks to how delicious they came out.

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In case you blinked and missed it, TinkerLab rounds up all the great stuff on the internets on keeping you and your critters creative and wraps it up for you in a tidy newsletter! (And throws in some secret giveaways for good measure!)  – Yuliya P., San Francisco, CA

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Magical Plastic Bag Experiment

Polymer Science Project for Kids that Feels like Magic. So simple. Easy to do at home. via TinkerLab

Here’s a fun experiment that won’t take a lot of time, and it’s more than likely that you have all the “ingredients” around the house. I did this with my three and a half year old, and it would be relevant for preschoolers and elementary-age children.

The idea that we’re testing here is what will happen if we poke a sharp pencil through a plastic bag of water. Will the water leak through the holes? Will the water spill out? Or will the bag reseal around the pencils, keeping the water inside?

When my 3-year old daughter (N) and I tried this out, we worked with the question, “what will happen if we poke pencils into a bag full of water?” That seemed more age-appropriate and tangible for her.

Magical Plastic Bag Experiment | TinkerLab

Supplies

  • Zip-up Bag
  • Water
  • Sharpened Pencils

We filled a zip-up bag about half-way with water and sealed it up. I held the bag high over a sink and N poked the pencils straight through the bag, from one side to the other. This is where my fancy photography skills come into play, holding the bag with one hand and snapping a photo with the other. Are you impressed?

Make sure that the pencil doesn’t keep traveling through the bag or you’ll have water leaks.Magical Plastic Bag Experiment | TinkerLab

Magical Plastic Bag Experiment | TinkerLab

Keep adding pencils until you’ve had enough. Before removing the pencils, take a moment to talk about what you see. When the pencil goes into the bag, the bag seems to magically seal itself around the pencil.

Magical Plastic Bag Experiment | TinkerLab

When you’re done, remove the pencils over a sink.

The Science Behind the Experiment

Plastic bags are made out of polymers, chains of molecules that are flexible and give the bag its stretchiness. When the sharp pencil pokes through the bag, the stretchy plastic hugs around the pencil, creating a watertight seal around the pencil…and the bag doesn’t leak.

Magical Plastic Bag Experiment | TinkerLab

More Polymer Fun

Now I’m really excited for us to try poking skewers through balloons without popping them (QuestaCon Science Squad) and make our own kazoos from toilet paper rolls and plastic bags (Kazoologist). Steve Spangler Science is also an amazing place to go for projects like this, and you’ll find endless polymer-related ideas over there.

You could also make your own polymer by mixing up a batch of fun and flubbery Gak (a mixture of water, white glue, and borax). We’ve done this multiple times, and my kids can’t get enough of it.

More Science Projects for Kids

If you enjoyed this project, you’ll love this article: Science Fair Project Ideas.

Did you enjoy this post?

TinkerLab Newsletter

In case you blinked and missed it, Tinkerlab rounds up all the great stuff on the internets on keeping you and your critters creative and wraps it up for you in a tidy newsletter! (And throws in some secret giveaways for good measure!)  – Yuliya P., San Francisco, CA

Join our community and you’ll learn:

  • How to simplify your life and make more room for creativity
  • How to make hands-on making a part of your everyday life
  • Easy, actionable ways to raise creative kids

Growing Gummy Bear Experiment

Do you know about the growing gummy bear experiment? It takes very little room, isn’t messy, and kids love it!

The incredible growing gummy bear experiment | TinkerLab

Here’s how we landed on this experiment…

My kids and I stopped at the drug store for baby wipes, and my 3.5 year old bombarded me with five minutes of excitement that sounded like this, “Mom, stop! You have to see this. Mom, can you get me this light up candy cane/cup shaped like a fairy/snow globe. Wait!!! I really want it!” Ugh. Why do stores have to put all their bling at child height?

I normally adore her enthusiasm, but I have a short wick for the begging and pleading for random odds and ends. Pair that with a one-year old who insists on standing in the shopping cart and you get the picture of me yearning for a hot cup of coffee and a trashy magazine.

In my mom-haze I accidentally walked us down the candy aisle on the way to check out. Dumb move, I know, and my older daughter quickly managed to pull a bag of gumdrops off the display with a request to make gumdrop sculptures. 

Ack. She knows my weak spot for creative projects!

Um, yes, we can buy the gumdrops for the sake of your growing mind. And with that, she also pulled down a pack of gummy bears. I remembered reading about a gummy bear experiment, and that’s how we ended up bringing these little jelly woodland creatures home with us.

The experiment is easy.

Supplies: Gummy Bear Experiment

  • Gummy Bears
  • Water
  • Bowl

Directions

Add a gummy bear to water. Check on it after a couple hours and compare its size to the original gummy bear. See what happens if you leave this in the water for one day, two days, and three days.

Experiment Ideas

  • Set up a number of bowls and place one gummy bear in each one. Add different liquids to each bowl (water, soda, vinegar, etc.) and see how or if the solutions change the results.
  • Document the changing scale of the gummy bears with drawings or photographs.
  • Compare the taste of the plump bears with the original bears.

How we ran this experiment

My older daughter and I each had to eat one, of course, we chose a couple to add to the water. I asked her what she thought might happen to them after being submerged, and she said she didn’t know. After a couple hours we checked on them, and found them covered in tiny bubbles. We compared them to one of the dry originals, and the wet bears were a bit plumper!

I left 3.5 year old N in the kitchen while I put her baby sister down for a nap, and returned to find her nibbling on one of the plump bears!! She had this to say, “I know I wasn’t supposed to eat the bear, but I had to also compare the way they taste to see if they tasted the same.” How could I be upset with that?

In all, we let the bears sit in water for three days, and you can see the size difference in this image. The gummies kept expanding and then finally seemed to fall apart.

If you try this at home, and want to do a taste comparison, be sure to refrigerate your gummy bears so they don’t grow bacteria. Yikes!

The Science behind the Experiment

Gummy bears are made up of water, sugar, and gelatin. Like a sponge, gummy bears will absorb water but the gelatin keeps the bears from dissolving in the water.

More Science Inspiration

If you enjoyed this project, you will probably love 12 Science Fair Project Ideas. You are also invited to join 1000′s of other parents and teachers who get our inspirational newsletter. It’s FREE, comes to your inbox about twice a month, and we’ll send you exclusive opportunities that don’t get shared on our site.

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Join the Tinkerlab network and be the first to know about simple art + science projects for kids, creativity tips, and simple ideas that will make your life more creative. Sign up for our newsletter.

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In case you blinked and missed it, TinkerLab rounds up all the great stuff on the internets on keeping you and your critters creative and wraps it up for you in a tidy newsletter! (And throws in some secret giveaways for good measure!)  – Yuliya P., San Francisco, CA

Join our community and you’ll learn:

  • How to simplify your life and make more room for creativity
  • How to make hands-on making a part of your everyday life
  • Easy, actionable ways to raise creative kids

Science Experiment: The Floating Egg

As I hovered the egg over a jar of water, I asked my 3.5 year old, “Will it sink or float?”and it reminded me of Dave Letterman’s funny sketch, “Will it Float?” Have you seen it? This science experiment is really easy to set up + clean up, and the lesson learned on the density of water actually stuck with my 3-year old daughter long after the experiment was over. Fun and success!

The set up

  • One egg
  • Clear container: I used a wide jar, but a tall glass would work and you won’t need as much salt
  • Water
  • A few cups of salt
  • Spoon to mix the solution

Step #1:

Place the egg in plain water and talk about whether or not it floats. Pretty simple — it most definitely sinks!

Step #2:

Start adding salt to the water. We added ours little by little, and tested the solution by adding the egg back into the water. My 3 year old poured while my 1-year old mixed. I love these moments when they work and play side-by-side.

Finally, it floats!

Baby Rainbow loved this step, as she could finally reach the egg, and had some fun picking it up and dropping it back into the water where it “bounced.”

The Science behind the Experiment

The egg won’t float in regular water because it’s heavier than the water. But adding salt to the water makes the water more dense than the egg, and it floats! We have a book called “Let’s Visit Israel,” and my 3-year old will talk about this phenomena when we reach the page about floating in the Dead Sea.

Taking it one step further

Steve Spangler Science has a great idea for dragging this out into one more step. Fill half of a tall glass (that an egg will fit in) with this salty solution and then slowly pour plain tap water down the sides of the glass, being careful not to mix the two solutions. Gently drop the egg in the solution and watch it sink past the plain water, only to stop on top of the salty water! How cool is that?!

Do you have a favorite science experiment?

This post is shared on It’s Playtime. 

Microwave Marshmallow Experiment

Have you heard of the microwave marshmallow experiment? It’s really simple and a fun way to explore how the volume of gas expands a marshmallow as it heats up. My kids also enjoy this experiment because it mixes science (+ fun) with a sugary treat.

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | Tinkerlab

Microwave Marshmallow Experiment Supplies

  • 4 (or more) Marshmallows
  • Paper Towel or Microwave-safe plate
  • Microwave
  • Paper to jot down observations (I’ll share my 3-year old’s observations in italics below)
For this microwave marshmallow experiment, we’ll microwave three marshmallows for different periods of time, and then  compare what happens to the marshmallows as they heat up, and then cool down again. This is an engaging way to involve children in scientific observation and discovery, it raises lots of questions, and doesn’t require a lot of prep or clean-up. Are you with me?

Step One

Microwave one marshmallow for 10 seconds and remove from the microwave. Compare it to an uncooked marshmallow and describe how it looks. How does it feel?

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | TinkerlabObservation: It’s small, shorter than the other marshmallow, but fatter. It’s gooey.

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | Tinkerlab

Step Two

Microwave the second marshmallow for 30 seconds and remove it. How does it compare with an uncooked marshmallow? What happens to it as it cools?

Observation: It’s a little bit larger than the other one. It got dry as it cooled.

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | Tinkerlab

Touching the second marshmallow.

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | Tinkerlab

Cool, a little hole showed up in the middle after it cooled down a bit.

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | Tinkerlab

Step Three

Microwave the third marshmallow for 50 seconds and remove from the microwave. Compare to and uncooked marshmallow right away and after it cools. How are they different? How does this marshmallow feel?

Observation: It’s huge and wrinkly and dry. It’s brown. That means it burned. That means it’s good to eat. Crunchy to eat.

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | TinkerlabYou can see all three marshmallows here. We noticed that the 30 second and 50 second marshmallows got hard and crunchy as they cooled, and N decided to taste them for a flavor comparison.

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | TinkerlabThe 50 second marshmallow was brown, crunchy, and caramelized. Have you ever tried astronaut ice cream? It had a similar texture.

The science behind the activity is explained clearly over here at The Exploratorium. In essence, the volume of gas in the marshmallow increases when the temperature increases, and then decreases as it cools down. The Exploratorium suggests not microwaving marshmallows for longer than 2 minutes, less you want a dark, stinky, burnt mess on your hands.

This project was inspired by a book we found at the library: Kitchen Science Experiments: How Does Your Mold Garden Grow?

Have you ever microwaved anything and been surprised by the outcome?

 

Science for kids microwave marshmallow experiment copy

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In case you blinked and missed it, TinkerLab rounds up all the great stuff on the internets on keeping you and your critters creative and wraps it up for you in a tidy newsletter! (And throws in some secret giveaways for good measure!)  – Yuliya P., San Francisco, CA

Join our community and you’ll learn:

  • How to simplify your life and make more room for creativity
  • How to make hands-on making a part of your everyday life
  • Easy, actionable ways to raise creative kids

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