Here are some ideas for engaging your children in the kitchen:
- Involve them in meal planning. Having kids do some of their own meal planning sends a powerful message that they matter, and it gives them an opportunity to pick and choose the foods and dishes they want. It also teaches them decision-making skills and how to make choices.
- Have them help with chopping, mixing, and pouring. Even young children can help out in the kitchen by slicing veggies or fruit, measuring out ingredients, washing greens, mixing batter, arranging items on a tray to be baked in the oven, snipping herbs from the kitchen garden, and decorating foods. Use child-safe cutting utensils and common sense to avoid kitchen-related burns and injuries.
- Teach them kitchen safety. Make sure they are aware of the dangers of hot stoves, ovens, and dishes; knives, food processors, and choppers; and potential contamination of cutting surfaces and countertops from raw meat, poultry, and eggs.
- Grow your own herbs or vegetables. Fresh herbs perk up the taste of food immensely, and nothing delights a child more than plucking the first ripe cherry tomatoes off the vine. Children have a natural curiosity for new, nurturing experiences, and gardening—even if it is a single pot of chives on a windowsill—is a great way for kids to see where their food comes from and how it grows. It also gives them the satisfaction of knowing that they raised it themselves.
- Let kids pick out their own food at the grocery store. Whether it is a cucumber or a cut of meat, learning how to properly pick out different foods is a great education for kids that will stay with them for their entire lives.
- Have children help clean up. One of the least exciting parts of cooking is the cleaning. It is best to clean up as you go along, so it is not so overwhelming at the end. Children can help by wiping up countertop spills or messes on the floor, loading the dishwasher, putting away clean dishes and silverware in the drawers they can reach, and other simple tasks. If they balk, you can point out that the sooner everyone can get out of the kitchen, the more time there will be for eating, reading stories, or other, more fun activities!
- Have them set the table and help out with serving. Younger children can set out the silverware, dishes, cups, and napkins. This task might be more fun if they and their siblings have special, personal plates or cups. School-age children can help bring out the food and serve it.
- Keep it positive and don’t be a perfectionist. When you cook with your kids, schedule enough time so you are not in too much of a hurry. Remember that they are still learning new skills, so they won’t be as quick in doing things as you are—or do them as perfectly as you might. It’s also very important that they not associate the kitchen and cooking with negative feelings, getting yelled at, anxiety, and stress; these associations may stay with them for a lifetime.
- Make them truly a part of the kitchen, with their own tools. Children love to take ownership of their destiny, so provide them with a supportive environment. It might be in the form of their own apron, a recipe box with cards they can write on, child-size kitchen utensils, special kitchen towels, or colorful measuring cups and spoons.
- Praise them. Be sure to let your children know when they’ve done a great job, and thank them for it. Then enjoy your meals together!
Holiday Blessings and Happy New Year!
Do not toss this salad; it should look arranged. This Riviera favorite goes best with vinaigrette dressing. You don’t have to cook much—just boil the eggs and potatoes and steam the green beans (or pick them up at a salad bar for a no-cook meal). Then open a can and a couple of jars, chop, stir, assemble, and it’s done. It’s a fun finger-food meal for kids too! Serve with good sliced French bread, warmed or toasted, and maybe even a chilled dry rosé wine.
½ pound green string beans
4 small red or white potatoes
1 head Boston or red leaf lettuce
1 (6-ounce) can albacore or other high-quality tuna, drained
3 to 4 tomatoes, quartered, or 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
2 to 3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and halved
1 green or yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into thin rings
16 to 20 herbed black olives (Niçoise olives are the classic choice)
2 tablespoons capers
8 anchovy fillets (optional)
Salade Niçoise Vinaigrette
1 tablespoon white-wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
Pinch of fresh tarragon or basil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Steam the string beans until just crisp-tender. Cool them quickly in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking, then trim as needed.
- Bring a medium saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes and cook for 6 minutes, or until fork-tender.
- Meanwhile, prepare the vinaigrette. In a small bowl, stir together the vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, garlic, tarragon, and salt and pepper to taste. Slowly add the olive oil, whisking until the mixture is well-blended.
- Peel the cooked potatoes, if desired, and cut into ¼-inch slices while still very warm. Douse with 2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette and allow to cool.
- Thoroughly wash and spin-dry the lettuce. Place in a large bowl, add 3 tablespoons of the vinaigrette, and toss lightly.