Our site has moved to: familytimescny.com


Let's Make a Meal

Q: How long does it take to make cookies with your kids?

A: About 20 minutes longer than it does to make them yourself.


But most parents don’t get much time to bake or cook by themselves in the kitchen. So rather than trying to work around the little ones, think about working them into your cooking as chef’s assistants.

Lynn Vanderhoek of Jamesville tries to teach her kids cooking skills as soon as they show an interest in what’s going on in the kitchen and want to help. She gives them “little age-appropriate things that they can do like stirring, pulling out the ingredients (from the cabinet and) turning on the mixer.”


Ultimately, the mother of three notes, “It’s more work for you, but it’s good to let them help.”

Her eldest, Gerrit, age 8, says the best part of cooking is “I get to eat my great toasted cheese sandwich!” And he takes a lot of pride in making that sandwich on his own now, notes his mom, a terrific cook herself.

She describes his methods as mimicking the TV cooking shows. “He gets out all the ingredients first” and then names the steps as he works through them—just as his mother taught him to do.

Vanderhoek holds out a figurative carrot to her son as well: “As soon as he’s doing well on his math and his fractions, he can make his own chocolate chip cookies.”

She also has big plans for her daughter, Janna, 5, and son, Gavin, 3. “I have decided that each of them is going to have to learn to make a meal because I am tired of cooking for them because they don’t like anything,” Vanderhoek says. “(Children) are considerably more interested in eating the things they fix themselves.”

Several area schools offer after-school programs that including cooking classes. At the Jewish Community Center in DeWitt, the cooking class fills up quickly each month during the fall and winter when it’s scheduled.

“We baked cookies one day for the entire after-school program” of about 80 children, says Lori Innella-Venne, director of children and teen services and the summer camp. The class of a dozen students usually focuses on healthy snacks and even learns kosher rules for cooking in the kosher facility. Other creations include granola-encrusted shish kabobs, chocolate croissants and pizza bagels. Traditional Israeli foods, like falafel and challah bread, were made during Israeli Week.

The once-a-week class, which will be offered again in the fall, is free to all children in the after-school program, which includes kindergarten through sixth grades. More boys than girls usually sign up, she says.

“I say the younger the better,” Innella-Venne notes. “It’s great to get them in the kitchen as early as possible and learning about healthy eating.” The older students “took the lead” when partnered with the younger ones. Innella-Venne also likes children to “understand how food came to be. Personally, I prefer to make our food rather than opening a box and heating it up.”

The JCC’s summer camp also offers a week on “kitchen science,” but Innella-Venne is quick to note that doesn’t include making anything to eat! “It’s more like experiments with things you find in the kitchen.”


If the kids are home on a rainy summer day, try a different activity: Step into one of the area’s “cooking shops” and let the kids help you whip up 10 dinners or so for the freezer. Sociale (622-YUMM), located on Route 31 in Clay across from Great Northern Mall, has the ingredients ready to be assembled into future dinners. Children as well as adults can follow the steps to packaging a Sting Ray Flank Steak, Hawaiian Pineapple Pork Luau or a Rock & Roll-Up Pizza. Even the names are kid-friendly. And there’s no mess for Mom or Dad.


Tables and chairs stand at the ready for kids who get tired of helping, and the owner and “chief dishwasher,” David Zellinger, of Radisson, even puts the movie Ratatouille on the big-screen TV for additional kid entertainment.

Although the business is aimed at adults, children are encouraged to help. “It’s a good lifetime skill,” Zellinger points out. College-age students have applied to work there, but are “afraid to touch a chicken,” he notes.

The business did hold a birthday party recently for 10 girls, all about age 12. The birthday girl wanted a cooking party, he says. The store staff cooked dinner for the party and served it on elegant table-settings with strawberry punch in wine glasses. (“They weren’t real big on the vegetables,” he says.) For dessert each girl received an individual chocolate cake, one with molten chocolate lava that flows when cut open.

sociale3 sociale4

Instead of plastic favors, the partygoers assembled calzones to take home and bake for their families for another dinner, Zellinger says.
His sons like to “get involved” in the store, too. But Zellinger says his 4-year-old isn’t into cooking yet: “He wants to mop the floor all the time.”
Two of the Make & Take Gourmet stores, a chain founded locally, will offer once-a-week cooking classes for children ages 7 to 12, starting in July. Children can sign up for one week or all eight, says Michele Bellso, manager of the Cicero store. Three classes are offered for 90 minutes each on Mondays starting after July 4 in the Fayetteville and Cicero stores.

In each Kids in the Kitchen class, children prepare three different items and get to try each one or take them home for baking there.
“In a day when cooking is diminishing, the kids are still fascinated,” Bellso says. “It teaches them kitchen etiquette, safety, hygiene…and a lot of kitchen math …(with) a lot of fun.”

A number of Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops sign up for regular cooking sessions at the stores for fun and to help earn a badge, she adds. The stores also do birthday parties.

A Brownie troop leader, Melinda Farley of Mattydale hopes to get her Brownies into a cooking activity appropriate for their age. Farley says it’s important to tailor the kitchen task to a child’s age and abilities. “I let them do only certain things,” she says of her daughters, Haleigh, 7, and Annelisa, 4. “They should start off with mixing things first. When they get to a certain age and height, they can start mixing stuff on the stove—when they can see more and are more mature and more aware just to keep from burning.”

She likes making cutout cookies and Rice Krispies treats with her daughters. “They like getting their hands dirty and messy and stuff with flour,” Farley says, smiling.

Gathering more cooking ideas for kids is as close as a computer and the library. The Internet offers many free cooking resources for future chefs. www.thatsmyhome.com/recipes-for-kids has numerous recipes for everything from snacks to dinner, including Harry Potter dishes. Based on the cookbook Cooking with Kids for Dummies, www.cookingwithkids.com posts new recipes and many other hints each month. The Food Network doesn’t leave out children either. Check out www.foodnetwork.com (and type “kids” into the recipe search box at the top) for TV-tested, kid-friendly items. Children’s cookbooks are a new specialty among book publishers as well. Don’t forget to look for cookbooks designed for children in your local library or bookstore.

Getting kids to help in the kitchen doesn’t always have to be an organized project. I’ve found my kids prefer to eat apples they pick out of the refrigerator and wash off than the ones I choose. At least it works sometimes, and it’s definitely gotten across the point that fruit should be rinsed before eating.

Speaking of washing fruit, kids love that water sprayer next to the faucet on the sink. Why not let them drop the fresh fruit into a colander and spray it clean with water for a minute… or four or five? They also can attempt to dry it and put it away in a bowl or refrigerator drawer. What may seem like another routine chore to us can become a grown-up accomplishment to our little helpers.

When hosting a party at home, our children have taken over the job of making one hors d’oeuvre: pigs in the blanket. It was my sister’s and my job as kids. It involves unrolling the refrigerated crescent-roll dough, flattening it out a bit with flour and a rolling pin, and then cutting it into strips. One child fixes the dough while the other cuts hot dogs into four or five pieces. The “pig” gets rolled up, placed on a cookie sheet, and brushed with some egg or melted butter. Bake them in the oven and you have a hot dog appetizer that’s always a big hit.

My kids also like to “play restaurant.” While that used to mean their father and I had to pretend to order and eat plastic eggs and wooden vegetables, now it entails spelling “appetizer” and “entrée” as our 7- and 8-year-olds write up their own menus. Based on the main meal my husband is preparing for that night, the menu includes drinks they can reach to pour for us, little carrots in the fridge for an appetizer, and an elaborate dessert typically featuring Oreos, ice cream and candy.

The main meal is usually cold by the time it reaches us, but we do get a few minutes to talk while the kids argue in the kitchen over who gets to carry which plate. Somehow the “cleanup job” is not viewed with as much favor as those of chef and server.


Several local organizations offer opportunities for children to learn how to help out in the kitchen, whether by taking classes or joining their parents at a meal-prep center.

College for Kids Onondaga Community College, 4585 W. Seneca Turnpike, Syracuse.
498-6000. www.sunyocc.edu/community.aspx

Jewish Community Center of Syracuse 5655 Thompson Road, DeWitt.
445-2360. www.jccsyr.org

Make & Take Gourmet
7785 Circle Frontage Road, Cicero. 701-0472
311 Towne Center Drive, Fayetteville. 663-0093

Sociale–Make and Take Gourmet
4106 Route 31, Clay.
622-9866. www.socialegourmet.com

Web sites with more tips:

Photographs by Michael Davis

© Family Times: The Parenting Guide of Central New York