Creative Cooking
By Jenne Buffington

Many early childhood educators would agree that cooking is a valuable experience, yet it doesn’t take place as often as it should. Perhaps this is due to the fact that having an available kitchen is not always realistic, or budgets are small and extra food for cooking activities is not within the limits. There are ways around these obstacles! Whether you have lots of experience in cooking with kids or someone who’s been afraid to take the leap, here’s two fun, adaptable cooking activities that can help you easily integrate this great teaching tool into your summer curriculum.

Celebrate America!

Celebrate America’s birthday with your children while reviewing our country’s amazing history and endearing traditions! Start your red, white, and blue celebration by reading these patriotic books at circle time.

  • Apple Pie Fourth of July by Janet S. Wong
  • Celebration! by Jane Resh Thomas
  • Hats Off for the Fourth of July by Harriet Ziefert
  • Happy Birthday, America by Marsha Wilson Chall
  • Hurray for the Fourth of July by Wendy Watson

No Fourth of July celebration is complete without a picnic. The following cooking projects are simple and fun for children to make and eat. Turn your picnic into a grand celebration by inviting parents to share the children’s tasty treats.


  • Cucumber Chips—Peel several cucumbers and cut them into chip-sized discs. Invite children to eat this tasty green vegetable like potato chips. If available, provide dip for the children to enjoy with their chips.

  • Fruit Kabobs—Provide each child with three to four toothpicks and invite them to spear several pieces of fruit onto each toothpick. These treats are great when served semi-frozen.

  • Homemade Lemonade—This project works best if done as a class. Cut several lemons in half and invite children to enjoy the smell of the fresh fruit. Squeeze all of the juice out of the lemons into a pitcher half full of water. Pour one to two cups of sugar into the mixture and invite each child to take a turn in stirring. Serve cold.

  • Peanut Butter & Jelly Roll-Ups—Ask children to spread peanut butter and jelly (or just jelly, depending on allergies) onto a piece of bread or a tortilla. Encourage them to roll the bread or tortilla up and then stick a toothpick in to hold together. You can also use lunchmeat, cheese, and/or other condiments for these roll-ups.

After everyone’s eaten, play jumping jack fireworks. Every time a child finishes 10 jumping jacks, ask them to pretend to explode by jumping as high as they can and then falling back to the ground like a tired firework. You can also form a Yankee Doodle Band. Bring along some supplies to make recycled instruments like flutes (empty paper towel rolls), drums (empty oatmeal containers), guitars (empty cereal boxes and string), pianos (shoe boxes and black and white paper), and microphones (empty toilet paper rolls). March around your play area or stage a concert.

The Inside Scoop

Turn your classroom into an ice cream parlor filled with cool activities. Set up a dramatic play area with a bar, stools, and a few props such as buckets, ice cream scoopers, and sundae dishes and create a few yummy ice cream treats. Extend this unit by exploring all things cold—Antarctica, polar bears, penguins, or the world of dairy! Give children the inside scoop by reading the following books at circle time.

  • From Cow to Ice Cream by Bertram T. Knight
  • I Like Ice Cream by Robin Pickering
  • The Ice Cream King by Greg McEvoy
  • Isaac the Ice Cream Truck by Scott Santoro
  • The Ice Cream Store by Dennis Lee

Everyone loves ice cream, especially children. The following cooking activities are fun and healthful snacks children will enjoy making.


  • Cone Snack Mix—Provide each child with one ice cream cone and invite them to fill the cone with a variety of snacks such as cereal, raisins, dried fruit, M&M®’s, etc. Pour a few drops of honeys on top of their creations for a little extra sweetness. Or, provide each child with a small cup of cut fruit so that they can put it into their ice cream cone.

  • Silly Shakes—Provide each child with a small cup of milk and a tablespoon of gelatin (any flavor). Invite children to shake the ingredients in a shaker—they’ll have a blast shaking it up! Encourage children to determine the color their shake will become before they take the lid off the shaker and pour it into a cup of their own.

  • Fruity Ice Cream—If available, provide children with a variety of jellies and jams – grape jam, raspberry jelly, strawberry jam, etc. Give each child a scoop of vanilla ice cream and then invite them to invent their own ice cream flavor by adding spoonfuls of the jams or jellies you’ve provided for them. Encourage children to stir well before indulging.

After indulging in their sweet treats, encourage the children to play a game of “Milk Shake Shake-Off.” Ask children to stand in a place where they have room to move their arms and legs without touching anyone else. Call out, “Milk Shake!” Instruct the children to move every part of their body until you call out, “Shake Off!” Play alternate versions of the game by moving only one body part at a time—head, arms, legs, etc.

Jenne Buffington is the kindergarten and preschool education specialist for La Petite Academy. She is also a validator for NAEYC.