Cooking School

Let the kids cook tonight!

By: Pamela Steel

© Author: Canadian Living Credits: ©

Cooking School

Let the kids cook tonight!

By: Pamela Steel
As a chef, cookbook author and nutrition consultant at my kids' school, I want my kids to love the kitchen and to create healthy dishes they enjoy. Once a week, each of my kids takes over the kitchen. They love being in charge!

How to encourage your young chef
1. Plan ahead – get them thinking early
The rules I give them are simple; there must be representatives from the fruit and vegetable, protein and whole grain food groups. Since we always have milk with dinner, dairy is a given.

On Thursdays it's my 12-year-old son Nathan's turn to cook. This week he's planning to make grilled cheese sandwiches on flax seed bread served with a Caesar salad. Sundays are my 8-year-old daughter Amanda's cooking day, and lately she really likes to make pancakes. I still vividly remember the first meal she made. At only 5 she served up pickles, whole grain crackers and peanut butter. Vegetable, grain and protein -- all present and accounted for.

2. Make it manageable – buy easy to prep items or pre-prep some things
Amanda puts blueberries and bananas in her Sunday pancakes, which she says is "surprisingly good." We'll serve more fruit on the side and sometimes we'll put cream cheese or peanut butter on them for extra protein.

3. Challenge them as they grow – menus will become more sophisticated as time goes on
Nathan has begun to experiment with international cuisine. Last week he made a great butter chicken by breaking up a supermarket roasted chicken and heating it with buttered chicken sauce and chickpeas.

4. Give them reasons to try new foods – if they prepare it, they may just like it
Nathan's not a big veggie eater other than carrots and salad, so he tends to serve salad (romaine only) and fruit (raspberries in season) rather than cooked veggies. But lately, slices of raw green pepper have become part of his repertoire.

5. Let them do it – don't try to control the experience
Nathan likes lots of help so I'm right there with him, but I let him make decisions and take the lead. He's a big fan of utilizing leftovers. If he can find rice or potatoes to reheat, he goes for it. This works for me; he's learning to economize and to avoid waste.

Amanda, however, is very independent. She still needs supervision; we wouldn't let her near the stove alone, but she handles most of the heavy lifting herself.

6. Allow them to experiment – you can always fill up on fruit for dessert
My fave parenting guru is Barbara Coloroso, and our cooking is informed by her mantra, "Teach them how to think, not what to think." I remind myself that any mistakes they make are opportunities for learning and I don't dictate the menu. My purpose in this years-long exercise is to help them to learn how to manage a kitchen rather than the simple mastery of a few recipes.

Some weeks go more smoothly than others but we keep learning about cooking, nutrition and each other. And as far as clean up goes – well, we're still working on that.

Some Canadian Living recipes your budding culinary star will love to make:
Grilled Cheese Sandwiches (Dijon mustard and onion optional)
Buttermilk Pancakes
Easy Pita Pizzas

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Cooking School

Let the kids cook tonight!