Do you know any kids who like pasta?
Maybe a better question is do you know any kids who DON’T like pasta?
I’m a big fan of pasta. And I don’t believe anyone can call themselves a lover of noodles without having tried the real thing. I can’t, in good conscience, allow my children to proclaim pasta as their favorite food without letting them make it from scratch.
But making pasta is kind of a mess. And if I’m going to make a mess of my kitchen, I might as well let the kids help. And if my kids are flinging flour around, might as well invite a few friends over to do the same, right?
Throwing a pasta party
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Throwing a make-your-own-pasta party in your kitchen for a bunch of kids may sound like a crazy idea. But if you’re able to look away from the mess, it’s worth the afternoon. Here’s how we did it.
Things you’ll need
- Electric pasta roller/cutter – We have a Kitchenaid stand mixer so we bought the 3-piece pasta roller and cutter attachment set
- 1 rolling pin – This Pampered Chef roller is super easy for kids to use
- Aprons (optional)
- A pasta recipe
- Pasta sauce – I prefer Fabio’s Marinara Sauce
- A menu of pasta shapes and instructions
- Pasta rack or clean plastic hanger for hanging the pasta (optional, but hugely helpful if you have one…we didn’t think of it till later)
Setting up and executing a pasta party
- Invite kids (and parents) you like. Look, we all have friends that have kids that kinda suck to be around. Don’t invite them to this one. It’ll be most fun if you have friends that get along and can listen to instructions.
- Set the table. We had 8 kids and 7 adults. We put the youngest kids (2-3 years) at our kitchen table and the older kids (4-8 years) at our dining room table. You need a non-porous surface if you plan to mix the dough directly on the table so we wrapped our wood dining room table that should have been refinished 20 years ago in plastic wrap. Our kitchen table has a Formica top, so we were set there. Before the kids arrived, Husband portioned the flour into bowls (3/4 cups per kid) and put a bowl, egg and fork at a spot for each person. We put a salt cellar and a cup of water in the middle of each table to share.
- Get each person’s preferred pasta shape. You won’t need this right away but it’s easiest to know what everyone is planning on doing right from the start (mostly so you don’t have to track them down later). We offered them 4 different shapes: spaghetti, linguini, bow tie or orecchiette. If you like these options, you can use this sheet to take your kids’ “orders”.
- Wash hands. A big part of learning about cooking is learning about germs and cross-contamination. It’s not the most fun thing to kick off with but have everyone wash their hands before they take their place at the table.
- Show them how to mix their pasta. The easiest way to explain the steps of pasta making is to show them. Start by adding salt to your bowl and mixing it in the flour. Then, show them how to dump the flour out on the table to make a small pile, how to make a well with the spoon, and how to crack the egg into the well. The other adults will likely pay attention and help the kids around them (assuming you followed step 1).
- Let the mixing begin! Let everyone dig into mixing their pasta. For those of you that cringe at the idea of flour clouds floating through your kitchen, this might be a good time for you to close your eyes. Encourage your kids to knead the dough as much as they can. We want them to take ownership of their pasta and appreciate the hard work it takes to make our favorite meals.
- Let it rest. Once everyone is done kneading, have them shape their dough into balls, wrap them in plastic wrap, and write names on them. (NOTE: Parents may need to do a quick knead on each one to make sure the dough is the right consistency.) The dough will need to rest at least 30 minutes before you’re ready to roll it out.
- Plan something fun to do while you wait. You don’t want to let the kids wander too far or it might be hard to bring them back to the pasta when it’s ready to roll. Husband suggests gathering fruit and vegetables, loading them with dynamite, and watch them explode. It’s a nice, fun activity the families can enjoy together. No humans were harmed during the making of this film. Food was destroyed. Ants were very happy.
- Roll and cut your pasta. Ideally, the kids who would be cutting their pasta by hand (making bow tie or orecchiette) would roll their pasta first. That was my intention, anyway. But I kinda forgot in the moment and just pulled whatever kid looked most willing at that moment. The kids were able to feed the pasta through the roller and then catch it on the other side with some help from an adult. It took 4-6 passes through the roller to get it rolled (depending on the shape they chose). If they opted for spaghetti or linguini, we’d switch the roller out for the appropriate cutter and they’d get one pass through that. As each child gets finished, toss the pasta with some flour and be careful not to pile it all together. The pasta on on the bottom will get stuck together and it’ll be too clumped to cook.
- *LESSON LEARNED* – Don’t try to keep the pastas separate. After each person cut their pasta, we tried to keep it all separate so they could eat *their* pasta. Don’t bother. By the time you’re cooking, everyone will be so ready to eat they won’t care who cut the pasta.
Seriously, why would I do this?
I’ll be honest, I planned this party before I thought the whole thing through. And the day before, I was really nervous that I had bit off more than I could chew. I was worried that the kids would get bored with all the steps, or that I would annoy people when I tried to clean in between things, or that so many people in my kitchen would be too stressful and overwhelming. But I would do this again with friends or just as a family in a heartbeat. It was a really fun activity that created some fantastic learning opportunities for the kids.
I want my kids to be functioning human beings when they grow up. People who can take care of themselves. Part of that is learning basic life skills like how to prepare your own food. The first step for that is feeling comfortable in the kitchen. And the best way to do that is to spend time there with them. Even if it doesn’t become a hobby for them, at least you’ll know that you’re sending them out in the world able to crack an egg and boil spaghetti.
Plus, cooking has all sorts of benefits beyond the basic need to consume food. It’s the perfect place to discuss math (fractions, splitting a recipe, etc.) or science.
I know, you’re probably thinking “you did this with your 2-year old. I doubt Turtle walked away with an understanding of fractions and chemistry”.
That’s true. Turtle did participate and she was not the least bit interested in my explanation on the difference between a 3/4 cup of flour and a full cup of flour. But she did spend 5 minutes kneading dough. So even if she didn’t walk away with master chef abilities or an appreciation for math and science, those tiny muscles in her hands got a heck of a workout. Strong hand muscles make writing and using scissors much easier. And arm wrestling. Your arm wrestling coach with thank you.
Kneading pasta dough (or any dough – even of the play variety) is also amazing proprioception sensory input. The pushing and pulling helps stimulate joint receptors and will help your kids develop a sense of their bodies in space and plays a role in self-regulation.
So at the end of the day, I’ve got to call this one a worthwhile way to spend an afternoon.
For your reference…
Our Pasta Recipe
This recipe makes 1 serving of pasta.
- 3/4 cup of flour
- 1 egg
- A pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon of water (added as needed)
- Fresh Parmesan (because why the heck not?)
- In a bowl, mix your flour and salt together.
- Dump the flour onto the table in a small pile and gently press a spoon into the top of the pile to make a well.
- Crack the egg into your flour pile. Ideally, the egg would stay contained in the little pocket you made in your flour.
- With a fork, break the egg and start mixing the dough and egg together. (NOTE: Normally, you make more than 1 serving of pasta at a time and you would slowly add the flour from the sides of your well to your egg. We don’t have enough flour to be that purposeful, so let the kids just fold in their flour as they are able.)
- Use your hands to knead the dough and mix the flour in completely. It will need a solid 5 minutes of kneading.
- If the dough feels dry, add a splash of water. If the dough feels sticky, add a touch of flour.
- Shape your kneaded dough into a ball and cover it with plastic wrap to rest for at least 30 minutes.
- Using a roller, roll the pasta as thin as possible and lightly sprinkle with flour.
- Run the dough through your pasta roller and cutters following the instructions of your machine.
- Sprinkle the cut pasta with a little flour to keep it from sticking together
- Bring a pot of water to boil and boil the pasta for 3-5 minutes
- Serve with a sprinkle of Parmesan on top!
Pasta shapes and instructions
We gave the kids 4 options for cutting their pasta: spaghetti, linguini, bow tie or orecchiette. The spaghetti and linguini makers would use the pasta cutters we had. The bow tie and orecchiette makers would run their dough through the pasta roller and shape their pasta by hand. This site has great instructions and images for the different pasta shape options. We printed out the bow tie and orecchiette and gave them to the parents of the kids making those shapes. In case you missed it, you can download a sheet with pictures of the pasta shapes to use as a menu here.