Get Those Kids Cooking!
here’s nothing like the holidays to spend time with kids in the kitchen. With vacation days at home, and family to help, it’s a great time to involve kids in the cooking process. While cooking with kids can be messy, it’s also quite fun and creates unbelievable memories. And, bonus, it’s a great way to teach nutrition on the sly. Little ones love to help. The question that often arises is: What are they able to do when?
My son was in the kitchen with me from the time he was born. And today, at age 25, he’s a much better cook than I am. He has absolutely no fear in the kitchen. He experiments, combining flavors and textures in ways I would never dream of. In fact, I have been encouraging him for years to become a professional chef. He says it would take the fun out of it. I disagree—but I learned years ago, no matter what their age, they make up their own minds.
So, when do you involve kids in the process? As soon as you can! We have a stool in our kitchen; it’s one of those that you can climb up on and kids as young as 2 can help scrub potatoes and vegetables. They can tear lettuce for salads. They can snap peas and break up pretzels for a crust. They can try juicing a lemon. Whatever the kids do at this point is teaching them about food and really expanding their palates, as they love to eat the food they helped prepare.
By the time they are 3, and they have a little bit more motor control, they can spread something soft onto bread or fruit. A 3-year-old can shake a vinaigrette dressing. They can mix up a batter, and, if you can handle a little mess in the kitchen, they can crack eggs. They LOVE to do that. And why not? Cracking an egg teaches about fragile items, and comes with a surprise in the center.
At age 4, children have the strength to shuck corn (that’s always a kid’s job at my house!) and to mash potatoes with a masher. They can peel oranges and bananas, and with lots of supervision they can do some grating. I prefer not to give them a box grater but a crank grater for cheese.
By 5, your little helpers are just that: true helpers. At this stage, they can set the table. They can make the salad. They can knead dough, use the mixer (again, all with supervision), grease and flour pans, and—OK, I’m going to say it—they should be working on knife skills.
Now I’m expecting the emails and phone calls. Listen, it’s up to you. It’s your child. And your comfort level. You know their motor skill set and their distractibility.
But I explained knife safety to my son from the very beginning and I guided him from a young age. First we used a table knife to cut blocks of cheese and other softer items. Then, we moved up from the kitchen knife to a sharp knife and cut celery, tomatoes, and more with adult supervision.
Here’s the key: Set them up at the table so they’re not standing on a stool in socks with a sharp knife. And then work with them. Use your hand over theirs to guide them. But let them do it. The sense of pride is worth its weight in gold.
And the ability to learn to feed themselves will be the best gift you can ever give. I know it paid me back in spades when I’d come home and my 12-year-old had prepared an entire dinner and was so very happy to feed his parents. It’s an achievement.
So, for this holiday let’s bring the kids into the kitchen and have them help us make the meal even more special.
Chris Xaver, Ph.D., is a local TV and radio personality with three children and five grandchildren. Her healthy lifestyle show, The Sweet Life, is airing on public television stations nationwide.
These make great starters for the Thanksgiving meal.
6 whole grain tortillas
6 slices of cold cuts (ham, turkey, salami, etc.)
6 teaspoons whipped cream cheese
6 pickle spears (dill or sweet is your choice)
A handful of tender baby spinach
Have the kids smear the cream cheese on the tortillas completely up to the edges.
Layer a slice of cold cut and a single layer of baby spinach and a pickle spear.
Cut into rolls.
Arrange on a plate and serve as appetizers.
Nutter Butter Apples
These, too, make good appetizers, not to mention snacks!
3 apples cored (but not peeled) and sliced into
“doughnut-like” circles ¼ inch thick (depending on age, the adults might need to do this)
½ cup orange juice
½ cup chopped nuts (peanuts, almonds, walnuts,
Soak the apple slices in the orange juice to keep them from turning brown.
Smear with the peanut butter and then “dip”
(or sprinkle) chopped nuts on top. Arrange and serve as
a fantastic fruity appetizer.