My son Aidan LOVES watching Chopped and Chopped Junior. It took him several years to warm up to the idea of wanting to cook with me, but now he really enjoys it, and I’ve also gotten better at letting him do this own thing in the kitchen. Every time Aidan watched an episode of Chopped Junior, he would ask if we could have our own version of Chopped at home, where he is given four mystery ingredients and has 30 minutes to make a dish out of them. For some reason, it was one of those things I responded to with “We’ll see,” which as we all know as parents really means, “Yeah, let’s change the subject.” Even though having a Chopped-inspired activity at home sounded fun to me, I just put it off.
But after the topic came up yet again, I realized that it would probably be a lot simpler to do than I first thought. And it was! It was a super fun activity that brought the whole family together and satiated Aidan’s desire to practice his cooking chops and creativity in an exciting way!
Doing a Chopped-inspired challenge had to be tweaked a little for our household, since we don’t have a family large enough for the show’s three rounds that end in eliminations. We simplified the process down into just one round, with me serving as Aidan’s sous chef to help and supervise and Daddy as both host and judge. Even though it didn't incorporate all the elements of the real Chopped, we all had a blast and it was probably easier and more kid-friendly that it was a simplified version! Here’s how we carried out our own Chopped Junior at home. You can modify it for your own children’s abilities and family size. It’s not only a great way to get the whole family involved and spending time together, but it can also promote creativity and encourage your kids to try new foods!
1) We made a makeshift Chopped basket and cloche, hiding the four mystery ingredients inside. Aidan lifted the cloche to reveal everything and we set the timer for 30 minutes. Then it was time to get moving!
2) We chose four “kid-friendly” ingredients that didn’t seem too overwhelming – frozen chicken nuggets, a cheese stick, rainbow Goldfish, and a mini bagel. Since this was just for fun and enjoyment, we didn’t want to force Aidan to use a super unusual ingredient or something that would turn him off, like his despised green veggies. If your kids are a little more adventurous, you can include something more unique or a food you’d love for them to try.
3) I stayed on hand to supervise the difficult stuff and assist with more risky tools like the food processor. Aidan really, really wanted to turn the Goldfish crackers into a dust, but I’m not ready to let him use a kitchen appliance like the Cuisinart on his own just yet! I tried my best not to offer many suggestions. If the end result was going to be gross or unsuccessful, that was part of the game!
4) Aidan felt the pressure of the ticking clock as he used his kid-safe kitchen tools to try his best to transform the ingredients.
5) Things started out neatly but as the timer counted down, we both felt the stress of it and the kitchen started to get messy. This was part of the fun! 30 minutes really goes by quicker than you think. You gain a huge appreciation for what the chefs really go through on the show.
6) With a few minutes remaining, Aidan started plating his meal for the judge. Since we only had one Daddy-acting-as-judge, he just had to worry about making one plate. You can totally tweak this to make it more like the show’s required four plated meals.
7) The tension-filled 10 second countdown began. “Time’s up, step away!” Aidan completed his dish just in time.
8) Aidan presented his dish to the judge and described how he utilized his four basket ingredients, as well as pantry items.
9) The finished product: A diced chicken nugget bagel panini with melted cheddar, dusted with Goldfish crumbs and a Ranch-Goldfish dipping sauce in the dish.
10) The Daddy-judge gave his analysis, which including both compliment and critique, just like on the real Chopped. No one was “chopped” this time, but Aidan has a super fun time and got the desire to play this “game” out of his system. He was able to exercise his creativity, bond with his parents, and we all learned that chicken nuggets and cheese on a bagel-panini dusted with Goldfish crackers was actually pretty good!
I hope you have fun trying your own Chopped-inspired challenges at home with your kids. It’s so much fun to do and a great way to spend time together!