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).