Caveat Emptor: iPad Cooking Apps that Cater to Kids

Caveat Emptor: iPad Cooking Apps that Cater to Kids

Marisa took a look at shopping list apps that help us all get food into our homes, so now that our cupboards are no longer bare I thought I’d discuss a few of the many cooking apps that are available for the iPad.

The iPad seems like a great tool to get kids into the kitchen, which is something I’ve been trying to do more often. Unfortunately, ties to big business or the entertainment industry encumber two of the most prominent apps for family cooking. Parents who purchase these products have no choice but to augment their children’s diet with an unwanted side of consumerism.

Kraft Foods’ Big Fork, Little Fork (Free) is on the right track, but this application is definitely the wrong vehicle to tell parents how to feed their kids. The app offers suggestions for picky eaters and simple meals to get kids into the kitchen — two things any parent might welcome — but it relies heavily on Kraft products. For example, the Bacon Dog Mac & Cheese (you read that correctly dear readers, this mac and cheese recipe includes hot dogs and bacon) calls for Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Oscar Meyer Bacon, and Oscar Meyer Hot Dogs, plus Claussen Pickle relish. Do you know any picky eaters that like relish? I don’t.

One serving of this dish will put a child into a nutritional free fall. Even if we choose to ignore the 11 g of saturated fat, it still has 1290 mg of sodium. According to the Mayo Clinic, the daily recommended range of sodium intake for a 4- to 8-year-old child is 1200 mg. One serving of Bacon Dog Mac & Cheese exceeds a child’s sodium allotment for the entire day. What if your kid wants seconds?

I am never one to advocate giving up all indulgences. I think we all deserve to make room for occasional nutritional lapses, but those lapses should be worthy. This dish is not a once-in-a-lifetime trip to an ice cream factory or the annual taste of a neighbor’s delicious baklava, it is boxed macaroni and highly processed luncheon meat with a chopped pickle chaser.  And that is just one recipe. I wonder what other nutritional hazards are lurking in Big Fork, Little Fork?

Users can purchase 50 additional recipes by Marcus Samuelsson. Samuelsson is a successful restaurateur who won my admiration on Top Chef Masters, yet his star is tarnished through his association with this thinly veiled commercial. He was under no obligation to lend his name to this program, and he should have known better.

It isn’t just Samuelsson who failed to see that something in Big Fork, Little Fork was amiss. The popular parenting website Babble named Big Fork, Little Fork a winner of its Best Kitchen Tools for Kids for 2010.

Developers need to create better apps for our children. Websites and celebrities need to take responsibility and not dole out their name or award to substandard products. In the end, however, we the parents still play the biggest role in deciding what our children eat. At least when it comes to Big Fork, Little Fork, the decision to keep it off my iPad is an easy one.

The only other notable iPad app which is aimed specifically at cooking with children is the Kung Fu Panda 2 Interactive Cookbook ($0.99, but price varies; up to $3.99). It is not as insidious as Big Fork, Little Fork. The Kung Fu Panda Cookbook is a decent idea that focuses on Asian-influenced recipes, and aims to get kids into the kitchen. It is also hard to fault the movie franchise for creating a cookbook since Po, the protagonist, actually works in a restaurant in the movie. There are not a large number of recipes included in the app, so try to view it as an experimental tool that might get reluctant kids cooking, rather than an encyclopedic reference.

The good news about cooking with the iPad is that there are some great tools that help parents improve on what we already do well: cook our own meals. One of my favorites is The Recipe Box ($2.99). There are a number of cooking apps such as Epicurious (free), All Recipes (free, $4.99 for the pro edition), and Big Oven (free). Search these sites for new ideas, then stay organized by uploading your favorite new recipes to The Recipe Box. The Recipe Box also makes it easy to add your personal favorite recipes, so dump that old-fashioned index card file, stop cooking from old Post-it notes, and go digital.

Perhaps as the App store continues to grow there will be more opportunities for creative apps that help get kids into the kitchen without sacrificing health or foisting unnecessary advertising on our children. Until then, the iPad can still be a brilliant culinary tool, but it still needs a savvy user to tell it what to do.

The Chaser:
If you want to give your kids a virtual sugar fix, in lieu of actual baked goods, no app is better than Toca Tea Party ($2.99). The app is modern and colorful, boasting a Scandinavian design sensibility and a cool jazz soundtrack. The game invites children and their parents to play imaginatively, and best of all, it even does the dishes for you.

Photo: Mike Licht