Let me confess: I love reality television, and I especially love competition shows. Now, I know many of those types of shows are not appropriate to watch with little eyes and ears in the room, but there is one genre of show that everyone can love: kids’ cooking competitions. Yes, they are about cooking, but they are also about good sportsmanship, failing, and individuality.
Here are my recommendations for shows for the whole family can watch together.
Masterchef Junior (Fox)
My personal favorite, Masterchef Junior, features kids as young as eight competing in the same kitchen where Gordon Ramsey whips home cooks into shape on Masterchef. If you’re familiar with that show, then you’ll be familiar with the challenges these kids tackle, from mystery boxes to cooking for large groups to breaking down whole fish. I am always astonished by how much talent these young people bring; in fact, in the most recent season, an eight-year-old girl made it to the semi-finals! I am also astonished by how kind and encouraging Chef Ramsey is with these children, quite the opposite from his usual persona. Seasons one through seven are available on Amazon and the current season is streaming on Fox.
Kids Baking Championship (Food Network)
Another favorite of mine is Kids Baking Championship, where young bakers are challenged to make everything from savory pies to cookie displays to elaborately decorated cakes. Duff Goldman and Valerie Bertinelli are charming hosts who don’t mind getting silly to surprise the kids—think animal costumes or matching outfits. They also dole out support and encouragement when the bake does not go as planned without giving away secrets that might change the outcome. The kids are also routinely supportive of each other, even sharing ingredients, and seem genuinely sad when someone leaves. Ten seasons are available on FoodNetwork.com.
The Big Family Cooking Showdown (Netflix)
The Big Family Cooking Showdown is not strictly focused on kids but it is focused on families. Similar in tone and structure to the Great British Baking Show, this show challenges the families, each represented by three people, to compete in three rounds in each episode. They have to use familiar and unfamiliar ingredients and they are always supposed to represent their family’s cooking style and preferences. The hosts and judges do not hold back with criticism, but they are also generous with praise when the dishes prove to be fabulous. It is especially fun to see the different ethnic cuisines represented in each group of families. Two seasons are available on Netflix.
Junior Chef Showdown (Hulu)
A show I just discovered, Junior Chef Showdown, also features young chefs, ages nine to 12, this time competing in two challenges in each episode. They are mentored and coached by three chefs, including Jordan Andino, who has become a regular on cooking shows recently. While this one lacks some of the entertainment flair of Masterchef Junior and Kids Baking Championship, it offers the same glimpses into success and failure, along with how to handle both. Two seasons are available on Hulu.
Chopped Junior (Food Network)
Confession: Chopped is not one of my favorite cooking shows. I realize that I am in the minority here, which is why I’m including Chopped Junior in my recommendations. The kids face the same challenges as the adults (similar to Masterchef Junior), which ultimately leads to frustrations and delights for the contestants. Here again, the judges change their demeanor to match the maturity of the contestants, giving them kind corrections and offering gentle suggestions for improvement. Nine seasons are available on FoodNetwork.com.
Lessons From the Kitchen
For me, kitchens are the classrooms for all important life lessons. They are places where we create, succeed, fail, learn to love, and learn to leave behind. These shows offer a classroom of sorts in that they open the door to broach some hard life questions, like the following:
- “What would you do if something you worked hard on failed?”
- “How would you react if your friend won something you wanted?”
- “Do you have something that you feel as strongly about pursuing as these kids?”
- “How do you feel when someone gives you criticism?”
When I told my now-grown daughter what I was writing about, she immediately asked, “do you remember that Kids Baking Championship where the girl tricked the boy into giving her the choice she wanted?” Of course I didn’t, but thanks to YouTube we found the Season Two finale. In the finale, three contestants remain (two girls and a boy) and the boy receives an advantage to assign the theme for the final cakes to other contestants. He chose the amusement park theme, and one of the girls then made sure he knew she wanted the camping theme. Of course, he didn’t give her that, so she got the beach theme she wanted.
I’d like to think that my daughter learned not to be overconfident in your powers to manage everything around you and that you have to focus on what you do best while not taking others down. She may have just learned that it pays to “play” your competitor. (The girl with the beach theme did go on to win!) But, even today, that kids cooking show opened a door for a conversation with my daughter about what kind of people we want to be.
In the words of Gordon Ramsey, “Your time starts now!” So, make some time with your kids this week to tune into some life lessons from the kitchen.