These days, unless you’re pulling down a salary in the high six figures, a trip around the world is pretty much out.  And that’s a shame; traveling together brings families closer and opens doors to new cultures and viewpoints.  But don’t despair – just head over to your kitchen to take an abbreviated tour of some world-famous cuisines.


If you’re looking for a family activity that is budget-friendly, why not try cooking?  Unless you coat your food in a heavy layer of salt and fry it a pool of lard, you’ll be eating a much healthier meal than anything consumed out of a greasy sack.

A note about the recipes: The following recipes aren’t meant to be 100% authentic reproductions of dishes you’re likely to find in Rome, Beijing, or Paris, but they are inspired by those cuisines.  I’ve adapted them to be friendly to American pantries and accessible to little hands (and picky eaters – no mushrooms here!).

Getting Your Kids Involved

If you’re new to cooking with your kids, don’t panic.  It’s pretty much a common-sense issue when it comes to getting them involved in meal prep.  First of all, never ever ever leave kids unattended in the kitchen.  Secondly, give them tasks that are suited to their ages: little ones can help stir or add in pre-measured ingredients; older kids can chop, peel, measure, and help plate food as their coordination allows.  Bonus: everybody gets to taste-test!

Ready to go?  Then let’s start with dessert – in France.

Recipe One: French Butter Cookies with Chocolate Glaze

Okay, so French butter cookies don’t need a chocolate glaze to be delicious.  But the fun your kids will have in making and decorating the cookies with three kinds of icing will be unforgettable – and the glaze is chocolaty enough to please adults too!

French butter cookies with chocolate glaze

For the Butter Cookies:

1 ½ cup flour

3/4 cup sugar

1 stick of butter plus 2 tbs

2 egg yolks or 1 whole egg

2 teaspoons vanilla

1/8 teaspoon baking powder

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Combine the sugar and the butter and beat well until soft and light, at least one minute.

2.  Add the egg yolks or whole egg and the vanilla; mix.

3.  Add the baking powder to the flour, combine well, and add into the egg mixture.

4.  Using your hands, shape the cookies into rounds or whatever shape you wish.  Place them on a baking sheet (lining the sheet with parchment paper will make removal easier) and bake about 15 minutes, until lightly golden.  Remove and cool on a wire rack.  Once completely cool, decorate with icing.

For the Icing:

1 ½ cups confectioners sugar

2-4 tablespoons water

dash of vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients and whisk until completely smooth. Use the icing to decorate the cookies.

Icing Variations:   Milk Chocolate – Add 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder; substitute milk for water.  Dark Chocolate: Increase sugar to 2 cups. Add 4 tablespoons of cocoa powder.  A dash of cinnamon is also great in either recipe; more liquid may be added to correct the consistency of the icing if it is too thick.


Recipe Two: Pasta with Fresh Tomato Sauce

In Italy, great food depends on fresh ingredients, not fancy preparation.  So leave that bottle of commercial tomato sauce on the shelf.  This fresh version tastes great and takes only a few minutes of active work.  For picky appetites, set aside some pasta and sprinkle it with cheese, herbs, olive oil, and a pinch of salt.

rigatoni recipe

8 oz rigatoni or other ridged or grooved pasta

8 Roma tomatoes (or 4 large heirloom tomatoes), coarsely chopped

6 large whole fresh basil leaves (or dried basil to taste)

1 sprig fresh rosemary (or pinch of dried rosemary)

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 small onion, chopped

2 tablespoon olive oil

1-2 tablespoons orange juice

salt to taste

1.  Heat the olive oil in a skillet on medium-high. When the oil shimmers, add the onion and garlic and brown slightly (1 minute).  Add the tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes, covered.  Reduce heat to low; add the basil and rosemary and let barely simmer for 15 minutes.  Turn off heat.

2.  Prepare pasta according to package directions.

3.  If whole fresh herbs were used, remove the basil and rosemary at this point.  Stir in the orange juice and the salt.  Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.  Toss the cooked pasta with the sauce, adding a bit of the pasta cooking water if needed.  Serve with the freshly grated cheese of your choice.

Recipe Three: Kafta (Lebanese-style Beef)

You can find this dish in many Mediterranean restaurants, starting with Greek cuisine and heading east.  Usually, the meat is formed around a skewer and grilled; in this case, we’ve shaped it into meatballs and inserted a toothpick.  It’s great on its own or served with the pasta recipe above.

kofta recipe

1 lb ground sirloin

2-3 teaspoon of Greek seasoning, such as Penzey’s


combine dried mint, oregano, onion, salt, and pepper to taste

1 large clove of garlic, minced

1 tablespoon dried parsley

1 egg

1 lemon, divided into quarters

1. Preheat oven to 400 F.

2.  Combine all ingredients except the lemon quarters in a large bowl.

3.  Squeeze the juice of 2 lemon quarters into the meat mixture; combine until mixed.  Don’t handle the meat mixture too much; just get everything together.

4.  Form the meat mixture by tablespoons into meatballs.  Bake (a casserole dish or large cake pan works well) until cooked through, about 15 minutes.

5.  While they are still hot, squeeze the juice of the remaining 2 lemon quarters over the meatballs.  Dust with garlic salt and insert toothpicks if you wish.  Excellent hot or cold.


Recipe Four: Stir-Fried Snow Peas

Flat, sweet, and mild, snow peas are as fun to eat as they are delicious.  Mixed with red onions and water chestnuts, they make a quick side dish that plays well with others.

8 oz snow peas

1 medium red onion, thinly sliced

1 large can of sliced water chestnuts, drained

2-3 tablespoons tamari sauce (soy sauce will work too)

2 large cloves of garlic, thinly sliced

2 tablespoon sesame oil (or canola oil)

red pepper flakes, optional

dried cilantro, optional


1.  If you have a wok, add the oil and heat it over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers.  (If no wok is available, double the amount of oil and use the largest frypan you have.)

2.  Add the garlic and cook until golden-brown.

3.  Add the snow peas and onions and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.

4.  Add the water chestnuts, tamari, (and optional seasonings if desired).  Toss well and cook until heated through, about 2 minutes.  Serve.

Culinary journeys can never start too young.  All aboard for adventurous family-style eating!


About the Author:

For the past three years, Stephanie B. has focused on freelance writing. Her work can be found on blogs and sites that range from the scoop on the latest technology to planning a perfect vacation. 



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Latest posts by Families Online Magazine (see all) Online MagazineFood and RecipesActivities for Kids,Cooking and Recipes,Family FunThese days, unless you're pulling down a salary in the high six figures, a trip around the world is pretty much out.  And that's a shame; traveling together brings families closer and opens doors to new cultures and viewpoints.  But don't despair - just head over to your...Parenting Advice| Family Fun Activities for Kids