What child doesn’t ask to help mom or dad mix the cupcake batter, make spaghetti for dinner, or fix pancakes and bacon on a Saturday morning? Even the act of pouring milk on a bowl of cereal–and actually getting it there (high five!) – is like a stellar moment at the Cordon Bleu cooking school for most young children.
In fact, the kitchen can become an exciting classroom for eager, aspiring chefs with lessons in math (purchasing; weighing; measuring; cooking time), science (how food changes and blends together — or not), geography (where things come from), agriculture, time management skills, development of fine motor skills (mixing; chopping; rolling), art, creativity, self-confidence, and even more. With so much to learn and do, why not round up the wildly curious, cake bowl-licking, spatula-wielding buckeroos in your brood and move them swiftly up the ladder from PB&J 101 to poached salmon and grilled portabella salad, teaching them to really cook!
Celebrity chefs like Emeril Lagasse and Giada De Laurentiis maintain that cooking with kids (their own included) not only teaches them about the process, but also develops self-esteem and helps young taste buds evolve to appreciate different types of food. Kids are much more apt to eat what they make. And with childhood obesity numbers spiraling out of control, what better way to instill healthy attitudes than to choose recipes that reflect fresh fruits and vegetables, and lean meats, chicken, and fish, rather than saturated fats and lots of refined sugar? As one mom puts it, “Junk food doesn’t grow in our garden, and neither do chemical additives.” Even kid-friendly fried fast food chicken nuggets become healthier options, and fun to make, when dipped in yogurt and whole wheat bread crumbs, and oven-baked.
For many adults, though, the fragrant, tactile world of food preparation has been lost to generations–theirs’ included– that grew up in the anti-culinary world of the 1970s and ‘80s. But substituting fresh food and family cooking time for canned peas and microwave pizza is achievable — and fun! While the microwave is great for popcorn, warming up leftovers, or expediting the defrosting process when time is an issue, the opportunity to spend an hour or two sharing stories, learning about ingredients, instilling self-esteem, and teaching your children how to feed themselves–which will take them well into young adulthood–is something that doesn’t come from opening a box and pressing a few buttons. It comes from exploring the kitchen and its many joys, adventures, and mysteries together! For aspiring young cooks, learning how to blanch green beans for a salad, or the difference between a quiche and frittata, can set them on the right course to the main course, and all the others.
Try this easy recipe for baked chicken fingers with your kids:
4 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 cup plain yogurt
2 cups whole wheat, coarse breadcrumbs
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Preheat oven to 350° F. Cut chicken in 1- by 2-inch strips. Place yogurt in bowl and mix in the chicken strips. Combine breadcrumbs, oil, salt, and pepper. One at a time, drop chicken strips into crumbs to bread lightly. Place on oiled or parchment covered cookie sheet. Bake for 12—15 minutes.