Kids in the Kitchen: Hot Fun in the Summertime
Now that the kids are out of school for the summer, you have even more time to spend with them! What? You’re still working as much as ever? You don’t get the summer off? Okay, that’s fair, but while you may still be just as busy as always, they don’t have any homework to do in the evenings or over the weekends. That makes summer a great time to start introducing them to cooking—and to the kitchen.
When done as a family activity, cooking can be a lot of fun for you and for your kids. Plus, there’s a bonus: If you have a picky eater, cooking may be the trick to getting her or him to try new foods. Kids are often more willing to try something new if they get to choose it–or better, make it–themselves.
Plus, cooking can be a sneaky way to get children to practice their reading and math skills—without it seeming like a chore.
Get them involved!
To build excitement about this new family activity, let the kids help you decide what to cook. Ask them which ingredients they would like to cook with and then flip through a cookbook together looking for a recipe. If you have young children, look for simple recipes that require five or fewer ingredients so they don’t become bored or lose focus. If you are spending time with your teenage child, though, let her look for something more complex.
After selecting the recipe, have the kids help you look through the pantry and refrigerator to see if you have all the ingredients called for. Let a child read off each ingredient on the list and make a note next to any you don’t have. Once you head to the grocery store, let the kids take the lead again by being in charge of reading you the shopping list and grabbing ingredients off low shelves. The more you allow them to be involved in the preparation, the more excited they will be when they finally get into the kitchen.
According to Julie Negrin, M.S., a certified nutritionist and the author of Easy Meals to Cook with Kids and the forthcoming How to Teach Cooking to Kids, there are many other benefits to including children in meal preparation:
- Lead by example: Exposure to “from scratch” cooking helps kids develop a mature palate and a taste for fresh, wholesome ingredients, Negrin says. “The earlier kids become accustomed to nutritious foods, the less likely they will acquire a taste for processed foods.”
- Encourages eating: “Kids are much more likely to eat what they make. Is there anything more fun than eating your art project?”
- Encourages self-confidence: In Negrin’s experience, cooking creates a sense of ownership. This translates to fewer mealtime battles and more willingness to try new foods. “Spending time in the kitchen gives them confidence. Kids thrive on feeling accomplished.”
- Healthier eating: Meals prepared from scratch usually contain more nutrients and fewer calories, chemicals, and sweeteners than pre-packaged foods and restaurant meals. Plus, Negrin notes, cooking together provides a natural way to discuss nutrition and food choices. “The more educated children are about food, the more likely they will appreciate your suggestions to eat something healthy.”
- Life skill training: “It’s hard to imagine that teaching a 3-year-old how to break an egg could result in a culinary protégé, but kids often become quite talented in the kitchen,” Negrin says. “This makes the messy floors worth it down the road when they start to cook for you.”
- Quality time: “Cooking with children when they are young offers an opportunity to communicate with them on a regular basis,” Negrin says. This time becomes even more important as they reach the adolescent and teenage years.
Allow ample time for cooking
Cooking with children, especially when they are young, can take much longer than preparing the meal yourself. Plus, the more kids (or grand kids) you have involved in the process, the longer it will take—and that’s okay. Because you’re doing more than just cooking a meal—you’re teaching your children the skills they will one day need as adults.
Remember, everyone will want a turn to do something—even in the simplest of recipes. This may mean you split the stirring between three eager little helpers. Also, keep a close eye on little one’s energy levels and make sure that when you’re cooking everyone is awake and energized. A crabby kitchen helper can make the experience unpleasant for everyone and reduce interest in participating in the future.
Your child’s kitchen kit
Nothing makes your child feel more involved in the process of cooking than having his or her own tools—and a place to keep them, within reach. Here are some tools to consider for your child’s kitchen kit:
- Measuring spoon set
- Measuring cups
- Wooden spoon
- Apron or large T-shirt
- Potholders and/or oven mitts
- Small knife (plastic, paring), if age appropriate
- Vegetable peeler, if age appropriate
- Safety scissors, if age appropriate
- Rubber spatula
- Small cutting board
While cooking can be a fun way to spend time together as a family, it is important to practice kitchen safety. Keep knives and dangerous utensils away from small children and stress the importance of oven safety. Children who can’t reach the counter tops should be given sturdy stools to stand on rather than be allowed to sit on the counter tops where the food prep is taking place.
Tomorrow: Julie Negrin shares more about specific kitchen tasks for kids of all ages. For more info on her cookbook, and for a free 20-page booklet on how to develop your own culinary education program for kids, visit her website.
Recipes from Julie Negrin
Baked Spaghetti Squash
- 1 spaghetti squash
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Using a sharp knife, cut spaghetti squash in half. Scoop seeds out and either throw away or save them to lightly toast in the oven later. Then cut each half into even quarters.
On a half-sheet tray or a 9 x 13 inch pan, add enough water to barely cover bottom of pan. Place squash pieces in the pan with the shell facing up. Bake 30-40 minutes or until squash is soft and pulls apart easily.
Serve with a favorite sauce, such as Basic Basil Tomato Sauce.
Basic Basil Tomato Sauce
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 yellow onions, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced (about 3 cloves)
- 2-3 stalks celery, diced
- 1 large carrot or 10 baby carrots, diced
- One 14-ounce can of tomato sauce
- One 28-ounce can of diced or crushed tomatoes
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tablespoon fresh oregano (or 1 teaspoon dried)
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)
- 4 tablespoons fresh basil (or 2 teaspoons dried)
- 1-2 teaspoons dried Italian Seasoning
- 1-2 cups water
- Kosher salt or sea salt to taste
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
- Optional: bell peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, or additional fresh herbs, chopped
In an 8-quart stockpot or Dutch oven, heat the oil on medium heat. Cook the onions on low heat until translucent, about 10-12 minutes. Stir in the garlic, celery, carrots and any other vegetables, and cook for 15 more minutes, stirring frequently. Add the tomato sauce, crushed or diced tomatoes, bay leaf, half the fresh herbs, the spices, and water and bring it to a boil.
Turn the heat down to low, and simmer for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours. You may need to add water since the sauce thickens while it cooks. Stir frequently, especially if you don’t have a heavy-bottomed pan. Season with salt and pepper. Remove the sauce from the heat and take out the bay leaf. Add the rest of the fresh herbs and stir well.
To create a smooth texture, purée the sauce with a hand-held immersion blender (or in a regular blender once it’s cooled down). This sauce can be used for pizza, calzones, pasta, lasagna, manicotti, or eggplant Parmesan. You can store it for up to 5 days in the refrigerator or up to 6 months in the freezer.
- You don’t need every single vegetable or herb in order to prepare this recipe—but the onions are a must. Try making Caramelized Onions to create a richer tasting sauce.
- This recipe yields more than you’ll need for one meal so that you can freeze the leftovers in dinner-sized portions. Don’t forget to date them!
- Use up your wilting vegetables and bruised tomatoes for this recipe instead of letting them go to waste.
- Italian Seasoning is a mixture of basil, oregano, thyme, marjoram, and other herbs.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Total time: 1½ – 2½ hours
Yields: 7-8 cups
Recipe from Easy Meals to Cook with Kids, 2010 © by Julie Negrin
Apple and Cranberry Crisp
Take the kids apple picking and have them help with the preparation of this dish: peeling, sprinkling, and squeezing the lemon are favorite tasks for them.
For the filling:
- 5 medium apples, such as McIntosh, Gala, or Fuji, peeled and cored
- ½ cup dried cranberries
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, for dish
For the topping:
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- ¾ cup chopped toasted walnuts
- ½ cup rolled oats
- ½ cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
- ½ cup packed light-brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- Vanilla ice cream or crème fraiche, for serving (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Cut the apples into 1-inch pieces, and transfer to a large bowl. Add cranberries, lemon juice, and sugar, and toss to combine. Butter a 9×13 glass baking dish, and set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine all the topping ingredients and stir until combined.
Pour apples into the prepared dish. Spread the topping mixture evenly across the fruit. Bake until the fruit is soft and the topping crisp, about 35 minutes, watching carefully that topping doesn’t brown too much. Let cool 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream or crème fraiche.
Preparation time: 1 hour
Recipe adapted by Julie Negrin from Jennifer Clair, Founder of Home Cooking New York and the author of Gourmet Cooking on a Budget (Globe Pequot Press, Spring 2010) with Michalene Busico.
Julie Negrin, M.S., has been a certified nutritionist, wellness expert, and program developer for more than 15 years. She designs and executes customized, client-specific wellness and educational programs, gives nutrition and culinary presentations, leads training sessions and teaches online e-Courses for professionals. Julie’s work has been featured in newspapers, magazines, radio programs, CBS Nightly News with Katie Couric, and the Today Show. Visit her online at www.julienegrin.com. Julie’s photo by Jon Wasserman.
You want your kids to love the kitchen as much as you, but you’re not sure how to foster that love? Check out these blogs from CHEFS Mix:
- Kids in the Kitchen: Hot Fun in the Summertime
- Kids in the Kitchen: What Can They Do?
- Kids in the Kitchen: Staying Safe
- Kids in the Kitchen: Planning a Meal
- Kid Food for Adults
Your turn: How did you learn to cook? In the kitchen with your parents or grandparents or on your own?