We ate some weird food combinations when I was growing up, but one of the oddest of all (according to my kids) was a grilled cheese sandwich topped with grape jelly. These sandwiches were a staple for lunch, turned out in large quantities by whoever was manning the heavy stovetop cast-iron skillet. Each child would spread a thick layer of grape jelly or raspberry jam over the top before eating. If you broadly interpret this combination, it’s not really all that different from a fruit-and-cheese platter today: all my kids love an appetizer of grapes or berries and wedges of cheddar and Muenster cheese.
Grilled cheese sandwiches are fun for kids to make; they can spread softened butter on slices of bread, layer on the cheese of their choice, and add a slice of bread to make the sandwich. Older kids can use a table knife to cut the sandwich into triangles or squares. Use a cookie cutter if you prefer those shapes.
To make the perfect grilled cheese sandwich—one that’s warm, gooey, and melty inside—cook it slowly over low heat on the stovetop. There should be no rushing with this sandwich. While it’s cooking, heat your child’s favorite pasta sauce for dipping. Or consider other accompaniments: ketchup, tomato soup, or jam or jelly on top!
What Kids Learn
- To make a great grilled cheese sandwich, cook it s-l-o-w-l-y over low heat.
- Grilled cheese and marinara sauce make an awesome twosome. But other toppings—like jam and jelly—are good, too.
- This lunchtime staple, as we know it, has been around for only about 100 years!
What You’ll Need
- 8 slices thick-cut white bread
- 4 tablespoons softened butter
- 8 slices American or provolone cheese
What to Do
- Invite your little chef to arrange the slices of bread on a large platter. Next, give her a small plastic knife and let her spread some butter on one side of each slice. She can then evenly arrange two cheese slices on the unbuttered side of four slices of the bread. Next, she can top the cheese with a slice of bread—buttered side up.
- Place a large skillet or a stovetop griddle on the stove and turn the heat to low. Carefully arrange the sandwiches in the skillet. Cook the sandwiches until they are nicely browned on one side.Teachable Moment: What You Don’t Know About Grilled Cheese
- The grilled cheese sandwich as we know it today didn’t take off until about the 1920s, when pre-sliced bread and cheap cheeses hit the U.S. food market.
- These sandwiches were, at the time, called “melted” or “toasted” cheese sandwiches.
- Until 1960, the typical grilled cheese was more of an open-faced sandwich, with cheese on top of the bread. Eventually, the second slice of bread on top became the standard and the grilled cheese got its modern name.
- Grilled cheese sandwiches need only bread and cheese, but the sky’s the limit! Try adding veggies or toppings. Or other fun things you can try are shredding the cheese instead of slicing it, buttering the bread instead of the pan (as in this recipe), and covering the pan while the sandwich cooks, to melt the cheese faster!
- Flip the sandwich over and continue to cook on the other side until that side is golden brown and the cheese is melted. Transfer to a plate. Show your child how to slice the sandwiches with a small plastic knife. Arrange on the platter. Set out dipping sauce and serve.Teachable Moment: Dip Into These Marinara-Sauce Facts
- The name marinara comes from the Italian word marinaro, which means “from the sea.”
- Nobody’s too sure how marinara sauce got its name, but it may be because it was popular to serve on ships; it was easy to make and didn’t spoil very fast.
- Marinara sauce is a staple of Italian-American food now, but it probably wasn’t invented until tomatoes were introduced to Europe—in about the 16th century.
- What sets marinara sauce apart from other Italian tomato sauces is how simple it is to make. Marinara sauce needs only tomatoes, olive oil, some vegetables, and any seasonings you like.
Note: Upgrade grilled cheese sandwiches like this:
- Switch out American or provolone cheese with jack, Muenster, fontina, mozzarella, or gouda.
- Sub in sliced French bread, whole-wheat bread, or English muffins. Believe it or not, slightly stale bread can make an otherwise blah grilled cheese sandwich great.
- Other fun add-ins to pile onto the cheese before cooking: thinly sliced ham, pepperoni, or turkey; whole fresh basil leaves; crisply cooked bacon; or tomato slices.