Can Your Kid Be the Next Celebrity Chef?
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Can Your Kid Be the Next Celebrity Chef?Make healthy eating a family affair.
With all the talk of how we should help kids stay healthy, my mind keeps returning to the same thought: Teach them to cook! In my home, the kitchen is an extension of the family room, and my three teen boys have helped me cook since they were small. Teaching your kids to cook doesn’t mean that you have to turn them loose on their own. It just means letting them play an active role in meal planning, preparation—and cleanup. Training little chefs is easy. Here are some tips to get you started:
Keep it clean. Teach good sanitation habits early, like basic hand-washing techniques using warm water and soap. I always tell my culinary school students to sing two rounds of “Happy Birthday” while washing their hands.
Mix it up. Start them with mixing and kneading tasks. Herb blends and spice rubs are a great idea as a first mixing experience—just make sure they wash their hands when finished and keep hands away from eyes and mouths if any hot spices are involved.
Savor the experience. I would encourage you to start with savory ingredients and save the sweet recipes for later. Remember when you started feeding your infant real food and the pediatrician suggested starting with vegetables? It’s the same principle. A good junior-chef recipe is Tuna Casserole from The SparkPeople Cookbook.
Sweeten the deal. Once you are ready to move to sweet recipes, I would start with smoothies and let them experiment with different flavors. Try adding some protein and fiber to the mixes by including yogurt, ground flaxseed, or wheat germ. Encourage seasonal eating when selecting the fruits and vegetables.
Teach the herbal remedy. Bits of unidentified green objects on a plate can be intimidating to a child. Purchase herb clippers and ask your petite chef to help with the meal by cutting fresh herbs. If you don’t have the clippers, just use a clean pair of kitchen scissors. Encourage them to taste each herb and tell them which flavors pair well with which foods.
Start chopping. When your chef is ready to cut vegetables with a knife, choose a small, nonserrated paring knife. Start with semi-soft vegetables and fruits like cucumbers, tomatoes, summer squash, bananas, and peaches. Once they feel comfortable with these, move to harder vegetables like carrots or potatoes. I would reserve any very hard winter root vegetables such as butternut squash or yams for adult hands only.
Make it a teaching moment. Make the experience an extension of the classroom. One of my fondest memories of cooking with my mother was during International Week at my grade school. I chose France and asked my mother to help me make chocolate éclairs. The basic éclairs are made with pâté au choux pastry dough—a big undertaking for an 11-year-old, but with her help they were a success. I remember how she helped me multiply the recipe so that we tripled the ingredients to make enough for the whole class. I did not know it at the time, but it was a valuable lesson in math. I have taken that same concept and applied it at home. We let our kids pick a foreign country and have them research the native dishes. We make a field trip to an international grocery store and explore. Pad Thai or Chicken Kebob Pitas (both found in The Sparkpeople Cookbook) are great beginner’s recipes—though they’ll need some help from Mom or Dad.