Cooking with Kids

Reader Contribution by Carole Coates
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Lavender lemonade is a treat for the eyes as well as the taste buds.

It seems the younger children are, the more they want to help in the kitchen. Instead of giving them a play kitchen or a few old pots to bang on, take advantage of their enthusiasm and let them help with simple, fun food-related tasks. It may mean more time and work for you in the short term, but that effort will pay off big time and they grow into little chefs who can prepare entire meals on their own.

Here are some easy-to-make, fun tips for dishes even the youngest children can help with. Who knows? Your kids may turn into the next Emma and Ty, two young teens with their own gardening and cooking You Tube channel, From Dirt to Dishes: Kids Grow and Cook.

No Cooking Required

One of my childhood favorites was a rabbit-faced pear ‘salad.’ Good and good for you. It’s easy. Lay a lettuce leaf on a saucer. Top with half a pear, curved side up. The small end will be the face. Press three raisins into the each pair half for eyes and nose to make eyes. Ears can be made from slivers of carrot, celery, or almonds; a few shreds of cheese or pretzel sticks make excellent whiskers.

Every bunny needs a tail. On the opposite end of the pear half, place a dollop of cottage cheese, whipped cream, or a marshmallow—whatever your child is likely to eat, and voilà, your pear salad is complete and sure to delight the young ones. To add a whimsical and nutritious element, tempt the rabbit with a couple of carrot strips an inch or so in front of its face.

Go International

Individual make-your-own pizzas are bound to be a hit. The simplest foundation is a purchased flour tortilla for each child. Or you can make biscuit dough and let the children flatten out mounds onto a baking sheet with the palms of their clean hands. Spread a tablespoon or two of equal parts tomato paste and sauce mixed with your favorite Italian herbs on each pizza. Let the children sprinkle shredded cheese atop the sauce and then choose and scatter their choice of toppings from a variety that you provide.

You can use the same idea with tacos or burritos. Just provide a choice of fillings and toppings and let the kids make their own.

Or you can make simple cheese quesadillas

Snack Time

There’s nothing quite like a cool glass of lemonade after a hot day of outdoor activities. Engage the children in the making. They’ll enjoy squeezing lemons onto an old-fashioned citrus juicer (though you may have to add a helping hand to extract all the juice). Here’s an easy recipe. To spice things up a bit, consider adding mint leaves or lavender if your grandchildren have an adventurous food streak.

It may be a little messy, but this cute snack was 100% put together with kid hands. 

You need a snack to go along with that lemonade, don’t you? Dress up an apple for a (mostly) healthy snack. It’s so easy to make and the kids are bound to love it. Start with an unpeeled, cored red apple. Cut the apple lengthwise into slices. Give them a quick dip in lemon juice to prevent browning, then pat mostly dry with a clean kitchen towel. Slather a layer of peanut butter on one side of each apple slice. Let the kids place miniature marshmallows side by side atop half the peanut-butter covered slices. Top with another slice (peanut-butter side down) and there you have it. Who wouldn’t be happy eating a smile?

Red, White, and Blue for Dessert

A patriotic cake is a perfect summertime dessert. You can even take it to your nearest July 4th fireworks display. Bake single-layer white cake in a 9 x 13 baking pan. When it’s cooled, frost with white icing.

Now comes the fun part. Let the kids help decorate with blueberries (in the ‘star’ portion of the cake) and alternate either strawberry slices or whole raspberries with the white icing for the stripes. Simple and striking. Here’s one of many recipes you can find online.

Special Touches

Consider purchasing an age-appropriate cookbook. Whether you have toddlers or teens, you can find one that’s suitable. Here’s just one set of selections

Why not do it up right and present your kitchen helper with a simple apron. Perhaps you could work together to cut one out and sew it up before you start your kitchen adventures. A child-sized chef’s hat will top things off nicely and put your little ones in the mood for cooking up a storm. You can purchase paper hats on line or make your own.

Bon Appétit!

Carole Coates is a gardener and food preservationist, family archivist, essayist, poet, photographer, modern homesteader. You can follow her Mother Earth News blog posts here. You can also find Carole at Living On the Diagonal where she shares her take on life, including modern homesteading, food preparation and preservation, and travel as well random thoughts and reflections, personal essays, poetry, and photography.

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