Cooking with Kids: Mini Lasagna Cups
Lasagna is a dish that is universally adored, but the traditional recipes can be a bit time consuming—especially with young children vying for your attention. This is the perfect lasagna hack for a quick weeknight dinner to allow for plenty of quality time with your family. In fact, this recipe is so simple that my toddler was able to assist with most steps, and does so quite adorably if you ask me! This is also a great recipe to whip up and serve as an appetizer or for a party with or without kids.
You may be thinking I’m crazy to let my toddler to help in the kitchen, and there was a time when I would have agreed. I’ll share a few tips that have worked for us below the recipe.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 16 oz (1 package) ground Italian Sausage – Can substitute with any ground meet or even spinach.
- 1 cup marinara sauce
- 1 ½ cups ricotta cheese
- 24 2-inch wonton wraps
- 1 ½ cups shredded mozzarella cheese
- 2 tablespoons parsley
- Salt & Pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Oil a standard 12-cup muffin tin with nonstick spray.
- Heat oil in pan over medium heat. Add sausage and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Make sure to crumble the meat as it cooks. Drain excess fat and stir in marinara sauce.
- Season ricotta cheese with salt and pepper to taste.
- Fit 2 overlapped wonton wrappers (see video for demonstration) into each of the 12 muffin tins. Press into the cup and sides to make room for the filling.
- Fill each cup with a 1 tbsp of ricotta cheese and 1 tbsp of meat/sauce mixture.
- Top with mozzarella cheese.
- Place into the oven and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the wonton wrappers are golden brown and cheese has melted.
- Garnish with Parsley and serve immediately.
The most important bit of advice that I can share for any new activity with young children is to spend time preparing them for what is to come. Talk about what you’ll be doing, what they are permitted to do, and what they are not permitted to do. It is important to set and stick to boundaries, and these should be shared with children BEFORE any activity begins. (ex. Today I’ll be chopping the vegetables and you will work on mixing in this bowl. It is not safe for you to use a knife yet.)
Start with simple kitchen activities. The littlest ones will love banging on pots and pans or stacking Tupperware towers while you cook. You can later upgrade to an empty mixing bowl and spoon to practice mixing. After they’ve practiced this for a while you can begin putting small amounts of water in the bowl, and later adding “scrap” bits of vegetables or small amounts of taste-safe ingredients in their bowl while you cook. (Trust me, they are going to taste it!) We practiced like this with my little one on the floor and in the highchair.
As interest grows in cooking activities, toddlers will want to work at the counter beside you. We simply pulled a kitchen chair to the counter for this, and talked a lot about safety expectations. Many companies make specific furniture for this purpose called kitchen helpers or learning towers. These can be pricey, so decide what will work best for your family.
We upgraded slowly to actual recipes after a disaster (read: power struggle) with a “just-add-water” recipe right around 12 months old. Here are a few tips we’ve learned the hard way:
If your toddler is grabby, measure out all ingredients into separate bowls before inviting them to help. As they get older and have more self-control, measuring ingredients will provide a great opportunity to learn math concepts.
Avoid using breakable dishware unless you’re prepared to deal with the consequences of broken bits everywhere and a total meltdown. (You’re not prepared for this.)
Don’t include your toddler in a cooking activity if you are pressed for time or cooking something for an important occasion. This adds undue stress, and simple recipes can easily take twice the time to complete. Also, expect that your toddler will probably lick their hands at some point in the process, despite your best efforts to keep things sanitary. See the mozzarella cheese step in my video for proof.
Again, set clear boundaries and expectations for your little one. I’m saying this twice because it is worth repeating! This actually makes for a more pleasant experience for everyone.
If all else fails, put some soapy water in the sink and let them “do the dishes” or practice pouring with different size pitchers and measuring cups. This has proved to hold my toddler’s attention longer than any other activity. Make sure to have them help wipe up after the water gets everywhere, because it will. Bonus: you’ve basically just mopped your floors!
Just like we prepare toddlers for new activities, you will need to prepare yourself too. You should expect a bit of a mess. Do not get angry or yell at them when something spills. This is an important opportunity for them to learn that it is okay to make mistakes. Don’t offer an activity you aren’t willing to clean up afterwards. Above all else, remember that this should be a fun, bonding experience with your little one. Keep it light and fun!