How to Read a Recipe
Reading a recipe isn't like reading a book. It's a set of instructions for preparing a food or drink. Once you know how to follow a recipe, you can get cooking!
The recipe name tells you what you'll be making. Some recipes also give a few words of description about the food or drink. For example, it might say, "Tropical Fruit Smoothie — a healthy and refreshing summer drink."
Some recipes also include a picture or drawing to show you what the food or drink will look like when it's done.
The number of servings is important because you probably want to know how much the recipe will make. For instance, will you have enough muffins for the whole class?
Most kids' recipes make just a few servings because it's easier for kids to work with smaller amounts of food. But it's easy to make more (a double or triple batch) or to make less (cut the recipe in half). Ask an adult to help you figure out how much of each ingredient you'll need.
Some people look at the nutritional analysis (say: noo-TRISH-uh-nul uh-NAL-uh-sis) of a recipe before deciding to make it. This tells you how many calories one serving of the recipe contains. It also might list:
- minerals (such as calcium or iron)
- vitamins (such as vitamin C)
This information can be especially important for kids and adults who must follow special diets to stay healthy.
Time tells you about how long it will take to prepare the recipe. This is good to know because then you'll know how much time you'll need. And, if you're making dinner, you'll know how early you'll have to start making it.
Most recipes for kids don't take a lot of time to prepare. Some recipes will have the time divided into two parts: prep time and cooking time:
- Prep (short for "preparation") time is when you'll be busy in the kitchen. You'll be mixing, mashing, stirring, and doing whatever else the recipe's instructions say to do.
- Cooking time is when the food is actually in the oven or on the stove top. (Remember that when a recipe uses the oven or stove top, you'll need your adult assistant.) With some recipes, you don't need to do anything during the cooking time. You can hang out nearby, do homework, or set the table. But with other recipes, you might need to stir or check on something every so often.
This is a list of all the items you'll need to make the recipe. Most ingredient lists in kids' recipes are easy to follow. Some even have drawings, so there might be a picture showing exactly how many cups of flour or eggs you will need.
Sometimes a recipe will also include special ingredient information like:
- optional ingredients. These aren't critical for the recipe, but can be used for added flavor or to make the recipe a little bit different.
- ingredients without a specific measurement. It might say, "Salt, to taste." This means you can add as much or little as you like to the recipe. A little usually goes a long way. And if it's not enough, you can always add more. You can't, however, take it back if you put in too much.
Some ingredient lists may tell you what you need to do before you even get to the directions. For example: "1 cucumber, thinly sliced" or "1 egg, beaten."
Finally, some recipes may suggest ways that you can change the recipe by using different ingredients. This can be helpful if you're out of an ingredient or you're allergic to an ingredient (a kid who is allergic to nuts can make cookies with raisins in them instead, for example).
The directions tell you the steps you need to take to make the recipe. Always read the directions first, from start to finish. Doing this will tell you:
- if you need your adult assistant's help
- if there's anything you don't understand
Preheating the oven is an important first step and you'll need an adult to help you. In many recipes, the directions are numbered or written on separate lines to make them easier to understand and follow. Some kids' recipes will have drawings here, too. For example, these drawings may show you how to roll out dough, grease a pan, or mix batter.
Some recipes suggest ways of serving the dish you are making or other foods to serve alongside it. For example, a homemade salsa recipe might say, "Serve with whole-grain tortilla chips for dipping." A grilled chicken recipe might say, "Serve with brown rice and asparagus spears."
But you are the chef, so you can decide how you want to serve your creation. Good luck and bon appétit — that's French for "enjoy your meal"!