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Kids in the kitchen

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LEANNE ELY CNC
THE DINNER DIVA

The kitchen is the perfect place to be together with your children. This is where the meals are made and, if your dining table is in the same room, it’s where they’re eaten, too. Giving children the opportunity to learn how to cook and prepare meals has amazing side effects. Believe it or not, you’ll even find your picky kids are more willing to try something they’ve made themselves.

When my son was 7 years old, he still wouldn’t eat salad. I had my children rotating through the kitchen every other day as my kitchen helpers, and when it became his day again, I decided it was time for him to make the salad. I showed him how to wash the lettuce and spin it (we have a salad spinner), I showed him how to cut veggies (yes, they can do it with close supervision!) and I showed him how to toss the salad with the dressing once it was time to serve it.

Sitting down at the table that night, my very proud son asked everyone if they liked HIS salad about 10 times! He ate two servings himself and from that day forward, he’s never been picky when it comes to salads. I call it “hands on nutrition.” This type of involvement helps to mold good habits and gives children an opportunity to exercise some personal responsibility over the food they consume — a big boon to their own personal nutrition when they go off to school and need to make decisions for themselves.

As many of you know, I have a website called SavingDinner.com where I provide weekly menus, recipes and shopping lists for my subscribers (if you need some help and would like a free menu and shopping list, go to http://savingdinner.com) I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received emails from subscribers needing assistance with some very basic cooking skills because they’ve never been taught how to cook. Or other ones emailing me and telling me how good they feel about themselves because they’re starting to get how to put a meal together! It is critical that we equip our children with the skills they’ll need for life. Motherhood is the only job I know of that you work hard to work yourself out of a job! We want to see our children succeed and knowing how to cook is a basic life skill — it’s essential.

If you’re concerned about your children cutting with a real knife, when Halloween comes around, buy those pumpkin carving knives and use them for the littler kids to cut stuff up with. They feel like such big kids when they get to handle their “own” knife!

For the older children, using a knife is still dangerous and they need to be closely supervised. I used to work professionally in restaurant kitchens and later on, as a caterer for my own catering company. After nearly taking off the tip of my finger in a kitchen, a chef taught me a great trick that I in turn, always teach my protégés when I teach cooking classes. The hand that holds the food to be cut, should always be held in claw fashion. So in other words, if you’re right handed, you hold the food with your left “claw.” If you’re making a claw, you will at worse, shave your fingers, but you won’t chop them off because they’re in the “claw” position.

There are a few safety tips for kids in the kitchen — have fun and get those kids in the kitchen this week — even the littlest ones can be good helpers! Make being together in the kitchen a part of your life together as a family. Think of the memories you’ll make!