Grammy Can I help cook

Teaching children basic cooking skills by using simple recipes that demonstrate safe procedures and tools. Teaching children nutrition by using USDA's MyPlate model to identify recipe food group(s), and individual portion size.

Nicky’s Healthy Taco Filling: preschooler combines her cooking skills and the electric skillet (cooking with heat). Well almost

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Nicky, my almost 5-year-old granddaughter, came over last weekend. Saturday we prepared a simple taco dinner for Grammy, Grampy, Mommy and Daddy. She’s always very excited when her parents come to pick her up. She hides and tries to fool them. At the end of each visit, before they arrive, I gather her toys, clothes, shoes, socks, and you name it from the living room floor. She always asks, “Am I going home?” and I always tell her, “Yes, you’re going home today, but not until after lunch”, or “after we get back from the pool.” We planned her dinner to coincide with Saturday’s pick up time. She was able to showcase her new cooking skills, and receive praise in return. We decided to prepare the taco filling in the morning and re-heat it in the microwave later.

Washing Hands

Washing Hands

Drying Hands

Drying Hands

Nicky’s Healthy Beef Taco Filling– 4-6 servings

1 pound Lean ground beef  (93-95% lean)

1 large onion, peeled, chopped

2 bell peppers (green, red, yellow, or orange), chopped

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder*

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)

1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder

1/4 teaspoon cumin

1/4 teaspoon paprika

* You can use 3 cloves peeled, minced garlic, but the garlic press can be hard for little hands to press


1. Please wash your hands

2. Ask Grammy to show you how to: peel, quarter, and chop the onion using the “safe” vegetable chopper. Be sure to quarter the onion before putting it in the vegetable chopper. Grammy will help you to push down hard until you hear the click.

3. Ask Grammy to show you how to: quarter, and chop the bell peppers using the “safe” vegetable chopper. Be sure to put the shiny skin side up in the vegetable chopper. Grammy will help you to push down hard until you hear the click.

4. Ask Grammy to show you how to: set the non-stick electric skillet on Medium heat (350 degrees). It shouldn’t be necessary to spray the non-stick pan with cooking spray. Put the ground beef in the skillet. Hold one of the cool-touch skillet handles with one hand. Using a wooden or silicone spoon, stir with the other hand until beef is broken in small pieces. Continue to cook, stirring, until meat is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. You can turn off skillet, but don’t wash it yet.

2. Ask Grammy to: set a strainer over a mixing bowl. Spoon the meat into the strainer. The liquid will drain into the bowl. Lean ground beef will have little, if any, fat, but DON’T pour the liquid down the drain. Put it in a container and throw it away. Set the strainer containing the meat aside.

3. Ask Grammy to show you how to: (if you turned off the skillet) set the same electric skillet to Medium heat (350 degrees). Add the chopped onion and bell pepper. Cook until crisp tender, stirring for about 3-5 minutes.

4. Add 1 cup water; cook until the water has evaporated and vegetables are softened, another 3-5 minutes.

5. Add garlic powder, tomato paste, salt, chili powder, cumin, and paprika; stir. Buying tomato paste  in a tube, like toothpaste, is such a good idea – no waste. This amount of chili powder, and other seasonings should be mild enough for kid’s taste buds.

6. Add back the cooked ground beef from the strainer; stir.

5. Ask Grammy to show you how to: set the electric skillet to Warm.

6. Ask Grammy to: heat the taco shells. Whole wheat flour tortillas 6″ or corn taco shells 6″ are healthy and tasty. Traditional corn tortillas usually have a very short and simple ingredient list; they are traditionally made with only ground corn and water. Modern corn tortillas have the same basic ingredient list, but they can also contain preservatives. You may see lime on the ingredient list indicating that they likely were made in the traditional way. However, companies search for ways to bypass this method.

7. Fill small serving bowls with:

  • diced fresh tomatoes (ask Grammy to dice; you can watch)
  • shredded lettuce (ask Grammy to buy shredded)
  • Reduced Fat shredded cheese (ask Grammy to buy shredded)
  • Light sour cream
  • salsa or guacamole

8. Ask your family to build their own tacos with toppings. This is so much fun

Our family enjoyed this healthy taco filling and building our own tacos. I warmed Reduced Sodium canned pinto beans on the side. We also enjoyed a mixed fresh fruit salad.

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

Nicky's Healthy Taco Filling

Nicky’s Healthy Taco Filling

“Grammy Post-it Note”: we tried to do too much: to learn new skills, and use new safe child-size and work-around tools for the first time. This lesson would be better for a pre-schooler if divided in half; for example:

1. Learning to use the vegetable chopper, measure spices and water

2. Learning to use the electric skillet, stirring over heat

Chopping Onions the Safe Way

Chopping Onions the Safe Way

“Grammy Post-it Note”at first Nicky was apprehensive to cook with the heated electric skillet.  I didn’t push her, but began browning the ground beef. She eventually came over, climbed up on her stool, and tried it. I showed her how to hold the cool-touch handle with her left hand and stir with her right hand. Today I’m going to purchase a new electric skillet with one long cool-touch handle. I hope I can find one just like little Caspar’s in Kids In The Kitchen. I’m sure she was hesitant because of the heat. It’s no wonder, after all those little early scoldings, as tiny hands reached for something hot, “Hot, No, No hot, don’t touch.”  I was sure to ask my daughter if it was okay with her to allow Nicky to try cooking with the electric skillet set on Medium. There is no direct flame and the skillet is stable on a non-skid pad. I hope a new skillet with a long handle will help to ease her apprehension, but I’m not going to push it; helping out is just fine at this learning stage. I’ll re-introduce cooking with heat later on.

Hesitant to cook with heat

Hesitant to Cook with Heat

Nicky’s attention span was shorter than I anticipated. This is certainly natural for a child of her age. After we browned the ground beef, and while I was straining the liquid off, she jumped off her stool and set up a Disney puzzle. She called out, “Grammy, I’m going to need help with this, it’s a hard one.” I had trouble coaxing her back to the her skillet, but she  finally did climb back up to help cook the vegetables. Before we started this project I had to brush her hair and have her dress for the photos. No more Saturday ‘jama time – “Not.” As you can see she wore her ‘jamas in the photos.

She enjoyed measuring the spices using her new measuring spoons. We did this at the table. She doesn’t understand fractions yet, but she can read 1 and 4 (1/4) or 1 and 2 (1/2). She selected the correct measuring spoon each time after I pointed out the amount in the recipe. I found this wonderful  measuring tutorial Measuring Different Ingredients in Cooking. We followed the procedures in this tutorial to dip and level. We also used the vegetable chopper at the table vs the counter. We both had to push hard on the lid to chop the onion. Be sure that the onion is firm and quartered. Bell peppers chop like a dream in the vegetable chopper if they are quartered and shiny side up. For the water I marked the 1 cup level on a 2 cup clear plastic liquid measuring cup using a post-it.

All in all she did well, but the lesson was too long for the attention span of a preschooler. I feel that this lesson did help to ease, but not overcome, her apprehension of cooking with heat (under these limited safe conditions ) Well almost.





Fruit = 1/2 c mixed fresh fruit
Vegetable = 1/4 cup Reduced Sodium canned pinto beans +
(shredded lettuce/diced tomato in taco topping + cooked onion and green pepper in taco filling)
Grains = 6″ corn taco shell = 1 ounce
Protein = 2 oz cooked Lean ground beef
Dairy = 1 c low-fat milk  + (Reduced Fat shredded cheese taco topping)

Some USDA Selected Messages for Consumers:

  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
  • Make at least half your grains whole grains.
  • Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.

Age Appropriate Cooking Skills – this list will build on itself as child matures and learns new skills

Skill Age Safe Tool Safe Work-around   Tool* Date Skill:
Measuring dry: spices 4 and up measuring spoons 2/16/13
Measuring liquids: water 4 and up clear plastic measuring cup 2/16/13
Chopping vegetables:
onions and bell peppers
4 and up Williams-Sonoma
vegetable chopper
Browning/stirring:   ground beef (Heat) 4 and up
Grammy demonstrate
and Nicky helps
wooden spoon electric skillet with a
cool-touch long handle
vegetables (Heat)
4 and up
Grammy demonstrate
and Nicky helps
wooden spoon electric skillet with a
cool-touch long handle
Draining juice from   ground beef Grammy demonstrate colander
small non-slip bowl with handle silicon spoon
Assemble taco:
tortilla (soft or hard)
ground beef
4 and up serving spoon
small tongs
MyPlate presentation 4 and up child’s plastic dinner plate 2/16/13

* work-around the safety hazards of heat or sharps (as a general rule children should not use the: microwave, oven or stovetop unsupervised until age 10-13 years old. They can use a knife with supervision at age 10-13.)

I look forward to your comments. Thank you for sharing.

Some USDA Selected Messages for Consumers:

  • Enjoy your food, but eat less.
  • Avoid oversized portions.

Author: Grammy Can I help cook

retired rd culinary school graduate wife/mother/grandmother

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