Ages & Stages: 11-18: Teens and the Toaster Oven

It all started with a garage sale find — a mini-toaster oven for only 50 cents. Remembering my own young days of late evening snacks of french fries and toasted cheese melts, we parked this little oven on the counter to see how it worked. And I proceeded to be pleasantly surprised at how the kids started using it. In fact, they used it so much that this year it was time to replace that little ditty with a regular size (and strength) toaster oven … yes, one that could toast, broil and bake more than one slice of bread at a time.

Was it a good move? You bet. With a mini-tray and a more powerful heating element, toasting, broiling and baking has taken on a whole new element of kid experimentation and independence. While it’s second nature to put toast or bagels in while eggs are cooking, it has proven to be just as much (if not more) fun to warm snack bars, granola bars, chocolate-almond biscotti and just about everything in between. From after-school snacks to late-night movie treats, a toaster oven is one appliance that can get your kids cooking in a quick, no-fuss way. And that is always a winner in my book.

While microwaves may be masters at reheating soups, leftovers and making quick mac-n-cheese, toaster ovens are tops for teens. Eliminating the need to heat the larger conventional oven, toaster ovens are small enough to be encouraging, but not intimidating. And encouraging kids to try cooking on a small scale is important. It’s those small steps that build self-confidence and can eventually lead to larger and more involved culinary undertakings.
For even if it’s just golden cheese bread, each item that emerges delicious and tantalizing from that oven, ready-to-eat thanks to their own efforts, reinforces skills and feelings of accomplishment. And that ultimately proves they have the ability to meet the demands of daily life, which can build confidence in all aspects of their life.

If there is one life skill that I think should be necessary for graduation (besides those basic three R’s, of course) it’s the skill of being able to cook a meal for oneself. And I’m not talking about heating up a Lean Cuisine.

To have the time and space to experiment, to make mistakes and not be graded, to just try for the sake of curiosity are all a vital and necessary part of the learning process. And kids who have the opportunity to do this will be much more likely to make smarter, healthier choices and be more willing to try new foods.

If you have a teen and toaster oven in your house, then I encourage you to stock some toaster-oven friendly foods and let your kids know that it’s OK to experiment. Who knows … they just might create their next favorite food.
Here are a few things the teen at our house uses for toaster-oven forays:
• Bread slices
• Bagels
• Fruit-filled snack bars
• Cream cheese
• Peanut butter
• Apple butter
• Jam/Jelly: strawberry, grape, etc.
• Fruit slices: bananas, strawberries
• Chocolate chips
• Ham or turkey, sliced/chipped
• Cheese: cheddar, mozzarella, etc.
• Condiments: hot sauce, mustard

Toaster Oven Turkey-Cheese Melts
• 4 slices whole-wheat bread
• 2 tsp. minced garlic (I use the pre-chopped bottled variety)
• 1/2 lb. deli turkey, sliced or chipped
• 1 cup baby spinach leaves, washed with stems removed (optional)
• 4 slices mozzarella cheese
• hot sauce (optional)

1. Place slices of bread on toaster-oven tray and rub lightly with the minced garlic, dividing evenly between all the pieces. Place turkey on top, placing pieces evenly to edges of bread.
2. Top the turkey with several spinach leaves. Sprinkle with hot sauce if desired, otherwise place slice of mozzarella cheese on top of spinach and turkey.
3. Set toaster oven to broil and place melts inside. Set timer for 8 minutes. When time is up, cheese should be golden brown. Serve immediately.
Serves 3-4.

Depending on the size of your toaster oven, you may need to divide this recipe into two parts to broil, depending upon the size of the tray and heating element. Serve with tomato soup and salad (or veggies with dip) for a fast and easy lunch.

Christine Gable is a freelance writer and mother of two.