Friday, January 14, 2011

Family Friendly Friday - Kids in the Kitchen

Welcome to "Family Friendly Friday," the last of my four newly introduced daily topics.  Every Friday I will post food that is fun to cook with kids or easy to get kids to eat.  It is so important to expose your children to a wide variety of food, but sometimes you need something that you know will go down without a fight.  I hope to bring you recipes that are easy on the young. unrefined palette, with a higher nutritional content and lower price tag than processed chicken fingers.

Today I want to discuss cooking with your kids. 

Before letting my kids help in the kitchen, I ask myself, what's the worse that could happen? Even adults need reminding that the stove is hot. However, by elementary school, children can be taught basic knife skills. Give age appropriate responsibilities and use age appropriate supervision. I need to stand over my 5-year-old when she uses a knife. Most 7-8 year-olds are safe cutting tender food. Then you can actually get other things done in the kitchen! Give your kids large tender food. Chop raw carrots, sweet potatoes, or tiny things like garlic yourself.

Around 4, let your child try peeling carrots with a quality peeler. Stay close and give them tips. One nick or cut is a learning experience, nothing to fret over, but maybe a good time to re-evaluate their technique or the appropriateness of the task. Using appropriate supervision and knowing your children's abilities should keep you out of the emergency room.
My son was a great vegetable peeler before he turned 4; but at 5.5, my daughter may require two band-aids and give me back an over-peeled skinny little carrot.

Make sure your kids are at a comfortable height and a safe distance from a hot stove or other people using knives.  If they are cutting, they need a sharp, straight edged knife that is not too big to handle.  Accidents with serrated knives are much more painful.

Let's evaluate some worse case scenarios with other activities:

Snapping the ends off green beans: They miss some or break off too much,  No guest are coming?  I say no problem.

Cracking raw eggs for batter: They could get egg shell in the batter.  If my kids are cracking, the chances of me NOT needing to fish out egg shell are slim to none.  That doesn't mean I can't break the eggs into a cup and let the kids add them to the batter.  They can also count how many eggs you broke and tell you how many you still need.

Washing dishes:  They might waste water or you might have to wash the dishes again.  They have to start sometime!  I'd say the worse case scenario is they get sick of helping before you've reaped the benefits.

Stir things on the hot stove: Burns may be the greatest danger in the kitchen.  I like my gas stove because the kids can see the fire.  Rowdy toddlers are less likely to crawl onto a hot gas stove, as opposed to a glass-top range, which doesn't look hot.  Find your child small oven mitts and check for loose fitting clothing like "peasant sleeves" that could catch on fire or accidentally drop in hot food.  If they are stirring pudding on medium heat, don't have hot oil sizzling on a nearby burner.  Have kids leave the kitchen if you are carrying hot liquid, like dumping pasta in a colander in the sink.  It's not worth the risk.

I started making Jello-brand stove-top pudding when I was young.  My mom shortened an oven mitt (see picture) and she made aprons (modeled by my daughter) as party favors for my fifth birthday.  My favorite pudding flavor was butterscotch.  Now I realize what a pain it is to stand over a pot of milk on medium heat.  My mom was lucky to have the help.  And I was patient because I didn't know how to raise the heat, and I felt like a big girl.

Things younger kids can do:
  • Open peanut or pistachio shells
  • Husk corn
  • Wash the floor with a damp rag or baby wipe
  • Pick out vegetables from the fridge or pantry and count them
  • Mix things in a zip-top bag with their hands
  • Choose produce in the market
  • Help plan balanced meals
  • Spin lettuce in a Salad Spinner.
  • Put away silverware
  • Set the table with napkins and silverware.
  • Choose their own fruit and wash it 
  • Tear lettuce for salad and add nuts, seeds, or dried cranberries
  • Wash and tear outer leaves off Brussels sprouts 
  • Turn on the food processor or blender 

If you have infants or toddlers, talk to them while you cook. Tell infants about what you're doing, and quiz toddlers about what comes next.

I hope you enjoyed this cooking with kids mini tutorial.  Remember, it's never to early to start teaching your kids:

How old are your kids?  What can they do in the kitchen? 

Click HERE for kid-friendly recipes, such as Sweet Zucchini Muffins, Banana Ice Cream, Soft Pretzels, and a posted response to a reader e-mail on feeding picky eaters.

1 comment:

  1. Great topic! My kids are 11, 8 and 1. I start them in the kitchen young, at about 4-5. They enjoy it and get pretty good at it! Baking is easier than cooking and they enjoy it more. My 11 yr old girls (twins) bake bread, cookies and cakes on their own! On occasion they even make dinner - eggs, toast, and simple salad. I do have to help with the cleanup but it's well worth it!



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