Six-year-old Gabriel Cooper is an old hand at making cupcakes, according to his mom, Christina Weyrick-Cooper of North Canton.
“We bake together a lot. We’re a vegan family, so we have to do lots of baking of desserts and cupcakes,” Cooper said. “Of course, (Gabriel’s) version of cooking is helping the first half, then the second half he calls ‘making potions.’ ”
Gabriel is a Harry Potter fan, so once he gets his hands in soapy dishwater, he starts asking for “magical ingredients.”
Baking and cooking can seem like magic to children — the transformation of a handful of ingredients into something tempting and delicious. Inviting children into the kitchen can be fun, as well as a chance to teach reading comprehension, science and math.
And nutrition, says Yvette Graham of the Ohio State Home Extension for Stark County.
“Getting kids to help with planning and preparing meals increases the likelihood they’re going to eat a more nutritious meal themselves,” Graham said.
“Including them in the decision-making means they’ll be more likely to taste it.”
The Home Extension has just launched a new class, “Healthy Children, Healthy Families,” to demonstrate healthful choices, including techniques for how to get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables, and drink water and low-fat milk rather than soda.
“We will go to churches, community centers, to a park, just about anywhere. If you have a group of friends and want to get them together, we’ll come,” Graham said. “It always includes a tasting, and it’s free.”
Graham says children often need to try a new food eight to 10 times before they’ll want to eat it.
“So we teach the “no, thank you bite.”
You taste it, then if you don’t like it, you say ‘No, thank you.’”
Ideas for parents
For picky eaters, consider the salad bar approach. Let kids build their own dish. Start with a baked potato, plain pasta, taco or rice. Then put the fixings in bowls on the table and let them add the tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, onions, beans, meat and cheese they want. It’s a great way to please all the different palates in your family.
Busy moms don’t always have time to build animal shapes out of broccoli florets or cut sandwiches into fanciful shapes, but meal prep still can be fun and funny. Try reading “Green Eggs and Ham” one evening, then making it for dinner the next day (just add spinach or herbs to scrambled eggs). Another theme: “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.” You can get pretty creative with that one.
You don’t have to wait until your child is school-age or can wield a knife before letting him help in the kitchen. Even the youngest toddler can help make individual pizzas on top of frozen waffles, or stir together a simple yogurt dip.
Don’t limit yourself to your child’s current favorites. You can use mealtime to encourage global awareness. Read about a different country — perhaps one from your own family heritage — then introduce a food from that country. Several children’s cookbooks offer simple international recipes, including the well-designed “Around The World Cookbook” by Abigail Johnson Dodge.
HOW TO BE SUCCESSFUL WITH YOUR KIDS IN THE KITCHEN
1. Plan. Browse cookbooks with your child (see our suggested reading list) and pick a recipe. Help kids make a shopping list.
2. Shop together. Let kids make some of the choices at the grocery store and the farmers’ market. Or take kids to a pick-your-own farm.
3. Prepare. Create a safe work area at the right height or get a sturdy stool.
4. Clean. Always wash hands and prep area before starting.
5. Be safe. Wear an apron, roll up sleeves and tie back hair to reduce mess and risk of fire.
6. Teach. Ask kids to read recipe out loud. Help them practice counting and math and measuring.
7. Baby steps. If teaching cutting skills, begin with a plastic knife.
8. Eat a snack first. Everyone will enjoy the cooking process more if they aren’t starving.
9. Don’t leave mess for mom. Kids should help with cleanup, too. It will pass the time while their creation cooks or bakes.
“Pretend Soup and Other Real Recipes,” by Mollie Katzen and Ann Henderson (a classic, written in 1994). Best for ages 3 to 6. The 19 recipes include quesadillas, blueberry pancakes, green spaghetti and the Pretend Soup, which is made from orange juice, yogurt and fruit. Kid-friendly step-by-step drawings.
“Kids Fun and Healthy Cookbook” by Nicola Graimes. Best for ages 4 to 12. Photos of procedure and finished product. Recipes include breakfast tortilla, corn chowder, fish sticks and sweet potato wedges.
Roald Dahl’s “Revolting Recipes” and “Even More Revolting Recipes.” Best for ages 6 and older. A mix of drawings and photos. Recipes include Stink Bug Eggs, Pickled Spines of Porcupines, Boiled Slobbages, Grobswitchy Cake and Hornets Stewed in Tar.
“Around The World Cookbook” by Abigail Johnson Dodge. Best for ages 8 and older who can use a knife and the stove. Well-designed, with maps and information on different areas of the world, followed by recipes from that area. The 50 recipes include burgers with chimichurri, Swedish meatballs, German potato salad and Bobotie.
“The International Cookbook for Kids” by Matthew Locricchio. Best for ages 8 and older who can use knife and stove. Easy to follow, with photos of finished dishes. Sixty recipes from Mexico, Italy, France and China, from polenta to egg rolls.