Cooking With Your Children (cont.)

Pressed for time in the morning? Start cooking breakfast with your kids on the weekends, during the summer months, or on school holidays.

For many of us, dinner offers the best opportunity for cooking with our children day in and day out. One tip: Set out some washed and sliced fruits and vegetables to munch on, and nutritious or zero-calorie beverages to sip while you're cooking. This means the children (and you!) will be less likely to nibble on the dinner ingredients while you work.

And just how old do your children have to be to help out in the kitchen? Many start to express an interest in cooking at around 2 or 3, and that's not too early to start.

Especially for younger children, it's important to set your kids up for success. Structure the work area so they are less likely to spill. You can also have them do their measuring with a jellyroll pan underneath to catch any spills.

Remember that the easier dishes are to prepare, the more likely the kids will try making them again. Start with things like breads, muffins, pasta, smoothies, and fun sandwiches. Slowly work your way up to the fancier stuff. Here are some age-appropriate cooking skills your children should be able to master.

Under 5 years old:

  • Scrub, dip, tear, break, and snap (for example, snapping the ends off green beans)
  • Shake, spread, and cut with a cookie or biscuit cutter
  • Peel (some items), roll, juice, and mash
  • Remove husks from corn
  • Wash vegetables in a colander
  • Measure and pour some ingredients
  • Hand mix

8-10 years olds:

Everything listed above, plus some more advanced duties, such as:

  • Cracking and separating eggs
  • Reading some recipes by themselves
  • Inventing their own easy-to-fix recipes
  • Using the electric mixer (with adult supervision if needed)
  • Stirring food over the stove (with adult supervision if needed)
  • Using and reading a candy thermometer (with adult supervision if needed)
  • Operating a can opener or food processor with safety features
  • Grating cheese
  • Cutting vegetables, fruits, etc. (using a plastic knife or dinner knife)

Here are a few recipes that your children should enjoy making ­ and eating.

Perfect Pita Pizza

Journal as: 2 slices of bread + 2 ounces of low-fat cheese (plus any toppings you use)
OR 1 light frozen dinner
OR 1 veggie burger without added fat.

This pizza can be assembled by children of any age, though the baking needs to be done by someone aged preteen to adult.

1 large pita bread (use whole-grain if available)
1/8 cup low-fat ricotta cheese
1/8 cup bottled pizza sauce or marinara sauce
1/4 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
Favorite pizza toppings (sliced mushrooms, less-fat pepperoni or lite salami, chopped green pepper or green onions, chopped red onion, pineapple chunks, and lean ham, etc.)

  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place pita, rounded side down, on a baking sheet.
  • Spread ricotta cheese over the pita (leaving a crust-like edge around the pita). Spoon the pizza sauce over the cheese and add desired toppings. Sprinkle mozzarella over the top and bake for 6-8 minutes (watch carefully so it doesn't burn).

Yield: 1 serving

Per serving (using whole-wheat pita and not including extra toppings): 256 calories, 16 g protein, 29.5 g carbohydrate, 8.8 g fat, 4.7 g saturated fat, 24 mg cholesterol, 4 g fiber, 492 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 30%.

Garden Stuffed Potatoes

Journal as: 1/2 cup "starchy food and legumes with fat" + 1/2 cup vegetables without added fat + 1 ounce low-fat cheese OR 1 cup hearty stew.

This recipe can work for kids of all ages, though an older child or adult should work the microwave and an adult would need to handle the broiler. Younger kids could chop the green onions with a plastic knife, mix the potato and sour cream mixture together with a fork, and stuff the potato halves. Kids 5 and up could use the cheese grater, too.

2 large Russet baking potatoes
1 to 2 green onions (the white and part of the green), finely chopped
1/4 cup nonfat or light sour cream
1 tablespoon whipped butter or less-fat margarine
Black pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon parsley flakes
1/2 teaspoon Italian herb blend
1/2 cup reduced-fat, shredded sharp cheddar cheese
3 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon minced garlic (or 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder)
1 cup cooked, chopped broccoli florets

  • Microwave or oven-bake (with adult supervision) potatoes until tender (don't forget to stab with a fork a few times before cooking). Meanwhile, in a medium-sized bowl, mix together the remaining ingredients (except broccoli) with a fork.
  • Carefully, with adult supervision, cut potatoes in half and scoop out the center, leaving about 1/2 inch of potato around the skin. Add the scooped-out potato and the broccoli pieces to the mixture in the bowl. Mix with fork, then spoon into potato halves.
  • Microwave each potato half on HIGH for about 1 minute or broil (with adult supervision) all the potato halves until lightly brown on top.

Yield: 4 side servings

Per serving: 205 calories, 10 g protein, 32 g carbohydrate, 5 g fat, 3 g saturated fat. 15 mg cholesterol, 4 g fiber, 150 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 21%.

Quick Bruschetta

Journal as: 1 slice bread + 1/2 cup "vegetables with 1 tsp. fat."

This recipe is appropriate for children of all ages, if they use a plastic knife to cut the tomatoes and an adult helps them with the toaster.

3 fresh, ripe Roma tomatoes
4 fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves (or 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano flakes)
1 teaspoon bottled minced garlic (or 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder)
4 slices sourdough, French or country-style bread, about 1/2-inch thick
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

  • Wash the tomatoes, then cut down the middle with a plastic knife and remove most of the seeds and juice. Chop into small pieces, and add to small bowl.
  • Tear or chop basil into small pieces, then add to tomatoes in bowl, along with the oregano and garlic.
  • Toast bread slices to desired brownness. Spoon the tomato mixture evenly over the toasted bread slices, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle about 1 teaspoon of olive oil over the top of each tomato-topped bread slice.


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