People ask me all the time if my kids are good eaters—if they eat everything I write about here and on my blog. The answer is NO. My kids are good-but-not-great eaters, happiest when I stick to what they know—grilled cheese, plain pasta, quesadillas, tacos—and wary of anything new. They like most fruit and eat a few vegetables without protest: boiled broccoli (with butter and salt), steamed green beans (with butter and salt), oven fries (salt!), and raw carrots with hummus (score!). Like their parents, more than anything, they love pizza.
They also love to help. Involving my children in the kitchen has not come as naturally as I would have thought. It has been surprisingly challenging, in fact, because it’s more work to involve them than to not. I’ve gotten a little better at it only because I now know what to expect: flour and batter and dough to fly out of mixing bowls, quibbles to arise at every step about who gets to do what and if it’s fair, surfaces (and hands!) to become stickier than ever, egg shells to land everywhere they are not wanted. It’s exhausting.
But because including the children in the cooking process brings them joy and occupies them at a time of day when restlessness peaks, I try to make it work, and pizza making, I’ve come to realize, is a relatively good activity for involving children. For one, the dough doesn’t contain too many ingredients, and it’s forgiving—if flour spills out of the bowl, it’s easy to add more. More to the point, there are no eggs! Also, the many and varied steps of pizza making—mixing the dough, shredding the cheese, stretching and saucing the dough, topping the rounds—keeps the kids engaged. It helps that all of the prep can be done away from a hot surface.
Like many people, we’ve designated Friday as our pizza night, which has become an end-of-week ritual we all look forward to. A few weeks ago, when my son asked me on a Monday if it was Friday yet, and I said no, I was sure his next question was going to be: “How many more days till we can watch a movie?” When he said instead, “I can’t stop thinking about your pizza,” my heart swelled—music to this mother’s ears.
A Step-by-Step Guide
Mixing the dough: I measure the water and weigh the flour, and let the children do the rest: measure the salt and yeast, add the water, stir it together. If too much flour gets displaced in the mixing process, I add more, until the dough looks right.
Portioning the dough: I allow the children to dust my board with flour liberally, which they love, but I portion the dough and ball it up, while they sprinkle my hands with more flour and poke and pat the dough balls as often as they can before I move the board out of their reach.
Stretching the dough: My tool of choice for great pizza at home is the Baking Steel, but when I want to involve my children, I find it easier to use cast iron skillets. My two oldest children (ages 7 and 5) can stretch the dough out nicely with their hands in lightly oiled skillets. Despite constant reminders to work from the center out, to be gentle, and to go slowly, the dough often will tear or look unevenly stretched, but it always turns out fine in the end.
Topping the dough: My two oldest can sauce the dough just fine, though they need to be reminded every time that sauce need not be spread right up to the edge—leave a border! They all like to pull the balls of mozzarella into chunks, which is easier for them than using a grater (and preferable anyway). And they all participate in distributing the cheese over the sauced dough. Sauce and mozzarella are the only toppings they like at the moment, so it’s simple. Most of the year I use a jarred marinara sauce (Casa Visco, local to me), which the kids love.
Baking the pizza: My job for now—the kids can barely hold up a cast iron skillet, so having them transfer one to the oven makes me nervous—but while the pizza bakes, I give the kids other jobs: peel carrots, set the table, get out the grated parmesan, which they love to sprinkle over their baked pizzas, put hummus in a bowl, etc.
Eating the pizza: On pizza Friday, kids eat first, adults second. Limited to baking two pizzas at a time, it’s easier for me to feed the kids first, then send them on their way. This increases the chances of my husband and me having a meaningful conversation tenfold, which is especially nice at the end of the week. Recently I’ve been topping our pizzas with crème fraîche, sautéed kale and mushrooms, and mozzarella.