How to Create a Cooking Challenge for Kids

Is there a budding chef in your family?

Are you looking for an entertaining way to get kids to try new foods?

If your family enjoys competitive cooking shows on television, they’ll love having their own Black Box cooking challenge.

Who knows what creative dishes they’ll come up with?

In this article, I’ll show you how to set up a fun family cooking competition using items you already have in your kitchen in 5 quick and easy steps.

Black box cooking challenge for kids: a fun family cooking competition using items you already have in your kitchen in 5 quick and easy steps.

Why Black Box Cooking?

Black Box cooking competitions are real and can be very challenging, even for the best professional chefs. You may have seen them on television shows such as Iron Chef.

My husband is an executive chef who works long hours and competes all over the world. We started playing Black Box cooking because my daughter was interested in what her daddy did when he was not home.

You may not have a chef in your family, but a Black Box cooking adventure is still a great way to teach kids about the trade, develop their cooking skills and creativity, introduce them to new foods in a fun way and have lots of fun together, just like on TV.

In a Black Box competition, cooks are given a box of ingredients and a short period of time to create a meal or a dish using everything in the box.

Black Box cooking competitions take place among professional chefs and on reality cooking shows. Your kids will love playing the same game.

There’s usually at least one ingredient that’s unusual or really doesn’t fit well with the other things in the box and is included to provide an extra challenge for the competitors.

finished dish

It’s fun to see what your little chefs create with the ingredients you provide.

In this activity, you’ll give your kids an assortment of foods, which they will use to create their own mouthwatering dish for you to taste and judge.

You Will Need

  • 5-10 ingredients of your choice
  • Optional: one challenge ingredient
  • Kitchen tools and serving dishes

Preparation Time

5-10 minutes to select ingredients

Activity Time

15 minutes-1 hour, depending on children’s ages and ingredients


Your kitchen

Clear the table, gather your ingredients and read on for step-by-step instructions for creating a Black Box cooking experience for your kids.

#1: Gather Equipment and Ingredients

First, select 5-10 ingredients for your kids to use in the competition. When we play this game at home, we change the ingredients every time to make it interesting.

You can use things you already have on hand in your refrigerator and pantry. It’s also fun to include items from your own garden (if you have one), as it brings a different element into the activity.


Select the ingredients for your Black Box cooking competition.

You can include a “challenge” ingredient to make the game more difficult if you think it’s appropriate for your children.

Remember when it’s all said and done, you will have to take at least one bite of the creation to show your support and encouragement. Choose your items carefully!

For kids who are not very experienced cooks, provide a couple of recipes that use the ingredients for them to refer to.

Caution: For younger kids, you should pre-cut the ingredients or have an adult on hand to cut the food up for them as they create their dishes.

For this particular Black Box, we used the following ingredients. You can choose whatever you like or have on hand:

  • Cornflakes
  • Pistachios
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Blueberry Greek yogurt
  • Canadian maple syrup
  • Cinnamon
  • Fresh peaches and blueberries recently picked on an outing
  • Mango

Be sure to provide the dishes and utensils needed to prepare and serve the meal.

You can line the ingredients up on a table or countertop, like we did, or hide them in a box or tub to reveal one by one.

#2: Collect the Chefs and Introduce Them to the Ingredients

At this stage, it’s fun to let kids dress up for the part if they wish. You can make paper chef hats and give the kids aprons to make them feel official.

When introducing the players to the ingredients for the game, ask the kids to tell you what the different foods are. This is a great chance to introduce them to new things.

describing ingredients

Ask the chef to describe the ingredients. It’s a great way to teach kids about new foods.

Take it further and ask where the foods come from or how they grow. It’s a good way to introduce kids to new foods and help them understand the world beyond the grocery store.

#3: Explain the Rules of the Game

Tell your kids what you expect them to make. It may be one dish or a whole meal. Or you could leave it completely open for them.

If more than one child is playing, it’s helpful to give some direction—”Use these ingredients to make a sandwich and a dessert for lunch.” That way, it’ll be easier to compare the finished products at the end.

If you have a child who tends to dawdle or overthink things, it’s a good idea to set a time limit.

Let them know whether they’re allowed to use cooking equipment such as knives, burners, ovens, blenders, etc., or if they should ask for help. For our Black Box, we pre-cut the fruit and used things that could be served cold, so nothing needed to be “cooked.”

#4: Ready… Set… Create!

It’s nice to give the kids some space at this point.

chef thinking it through

They may need to think for a while before they start creating. That’s ok.

Let them know that safety comes first and you’re available to help with things like cutting, but otherwise leave them alone to make their own creations.

creating their dish

Step away and let them create in their own ways.

It’s hard to resist “helping,” I know!

Find something to do while your child is having fun creating a wonderful dish for you to try. They’ll be so proud of something they made all by themselves.

chef making dish

Your kids may surprise you with their cooking prowess!

When their masterpieces are complete, they will be very excited to show you what they have created.

finished masterpiece

Her completed masterpiece.

Ask them to describe the meal or dish, just like in professional Black Box competitions.

#5: You Be the Judge

It’s fun to pretend you are a real food judge in a competition.

Make a big deal of analyzing the dish. Use all your senses to describe the way it looks, feels, smells

dad judging dish

Judge their dish on presentation and appearance—not just taste.

Taste it in small bites, savor the flavor, texture and combination of foods and give lots of feedback.

judge tasting dish

Next, taste their creation and let them know how much you like it.

If your kids are anything like mine, they will want to sample their own creations, too. If more than one child is playing, let them taste each of the meals.

girl tasting

Let everyone taste each of the entries and have fun comparing them.

Compare the positive points of each different dish and declare one (or all) to be the winner.

It’s fun to see how many different things can be made out of a few simple ingredients and discover how creative and clever your kids are. Enjoy having your own Black Box cooking challenge.

Have fun and bon appétit!

Some Final Thoughts

Black Box cooking started as a way for my husband to spend more time with our daughter and to teach her about what he does for a living. It is now helping her learn about different foods and how they grow, and helping her experience different ingredients.

Whether or not you have a professional chef in the house, this is a great activity for kids, which will help them become more creative and develop some life skills at the same time.

What do you think? Please tell us what delicious creations your children cooked up. After your first Black Box experience, please post your pictures so we can all see what your kids created.

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About the Author, Jackie Clavel

Jackie's creative and loves spending time with family. When she's not working you'll find her creating memories with her family and scrapbooking to keep those memories for her daughter. Other posts by »

  • Jennifer Ballard

    Thanks, Jackie!This looks like so much fun. (and now I’m hungry!)

  • Jackie

    Thank you. We always have a great time and normally the food is delicious also.

  • thefoodies

    This is a great idea. It’s simple, fun and allows a lot of creativity within a framework where there is a guarantee of some success. Picking the ingredients carefully means that whatever the child makes will be palatable but they can really feel that they are cooking totally independently, which is fab, as a lot of cooking for children is very prescriptive.

    I’ll post a link on my site to the parents and childcarers who use it because they mostly work with very young children and not all activities are suitable for little ones. By suggesting the possibility of no-cook / pre-chopped ingredients for wee ones you have built in a way to make it safe even for the youngest cooks. Lots of parents really want to let their kids have free range but are genuinely nervous about it and this will give them a way to relax and see what happens.

    Nice one!

  • Jackie

    Thank you. It is fun when kids of all ages are able to participate, especially if there are siblings of different ages. Glade you enjoyed the article.

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