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Cooking with Kids

Quality Family Time Comes in the Kitchen

1306_Cookin_2I find cooking with children, especially your own, can be both fun and enjoyable – as well as extremely stressful. In one sense, you want to take the time, enjoy the powerful bonding opportunity, and all cook a wonderful meal. On the other hand, you just got home and you have twenty minutes to get something on the table and everyone is telling you how hungry they are. Sound familiar?

My twins (elementary school age darlings) have an advantage of having parents who are both food professionals, so we are cooking something almost every day. On the days or evenings, when I am not pressed trying to get a meal on the table, I welcome the help from my children. The conversations are memorable, too.

As far as tasks for kids in the kitchen, before handing out any specific duties to the kids, certainly discuss (and practice) safety in the kitchen, from reviewing rules about knives to keeping the pot handles from hanging over the edge of the stove. The assignment definitely depends on the age of the child. For the younger set, there is always stirring or mixing ingredients. This is a great way to practicing counting. Tearing lettuce leaves for a salad or basil leaves is safe, too. Because mushrooms are soft and don’t have a tough skin, they were the first vegetable that my children learned to cut, using a smooth-edged plastic knife. In fact, mushrooms are the perfect vegetable to practice knife skills, no matter what age.

So how can you get the kids involved in the cooking process without having to clean up a huge mess, and still get dinner on the table? My advice is to start small.

Have the kids get the ingredients from the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry. Make some muffins or cookies with plenty of dry ingredients to measure, pour, and mix. With older children, proper knife skills are essential. The actual cooking is usually pretty simple, it’s the prep-work that takes the time, so show those teenagers how to slice and dice. Always keep in mind that a sharp knife is safer than a dull knife. You might also invest in a bunch of small bowls to keep each ingredient separate.

Another great way to get the kids involved is not only with the meal preparation, but the meal planning. Kids will not only be willing to help with the preparation, but will be more likely to eat a dish, if they are involved in its creation.

And yes, my children have wonderful knowledge of food. Yes, they have eaten and enjoyed some crazy things, like roasted lamb’s brain for example. But just try and encourage these two to eat homemade macaroni and cheese with a true bechamel sauce and expensive gourmet cheeses, and what do I hear? Only whines and moans of disgust: “Give us the boxed mac ‘n cheese!” When that happens, I let them stir the powdered cheese with the butter and milk, and presto! lunch is ready.

Your menu may be as simple as slice-and-bake cookies, or as involved as a four-course meal, but whatever it is, it’s all about spending some time together. It just happens to be in the kitchen and, with any luck, will result in food you can enjoy together. My family has great conversations around the kitchen countertop. We talk about what the food is, where it comes from, as well as practice our spelling and counting. So by all means, grab your kids and make some family magic in the kitchen!

Christine Wansleben, chef and owner of Mise En Place Cooking School, lives in the West End, where she cooks up a storm with her husband and their twins.
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