Kids in the Kitchen

Most parents avoid letting their kids get involved in the kitchen because of the negative images they conjure up: giant clouds of flour, eggs smeared from one end of the counter to the other, peanut butter hair-do’s. However, a whole host of studies from organizations as diverse as the American Heart Association and the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University strongly encourage parents to reconsider their children’s roles in helping to prepare the family meal.

In the short-term, kids in the kitchen are:

  • More likely to try a diverse array of healthy foods, thus decreasing the risk of developing food allergies and ensuring the consumption of bioavailable vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, amino acids and other building blocks.
  • Likely to feel that they are accomplishing something and contributing to their family’s well-being.
  • More likely to sit down to a family meal when they helped prepare it.
  • Avoiding time spent in front of the TV or computer while they’re cooking.
  • Typically not eating junk food when they’re cooking a meal at home.

In the long-term,

  • Learning to cook is a skill your children can use for the rest of their lives.
  • Kids who learn to eat well are more likely to eat healthfully as adults, reducing their chances of developing chronic conditions like diabetes or heart disease.
  • Positive cooking experiences can help build self-confidence.
  • Kids who cook with their parents and develop positive relationships and open lines of communication along the way may be less likely to abuse drugs as teenagers.

Starting with simple dishes like pasta, sandwiches, salads, or smoothies with children as young as 2-3 years of age can set the stage for success and confidence in the kitchen.

Children under 5 years of age can help:

  • Spread peanut butter on bread.
  • Cut banana slices with plastic knife.
  • Wash and scrub fruits and vegetables.
  • Wipe off the counter top.
  • Tear lettuce or snap beans.
  • Shake plastic bags full of different ingredients.
  • Pour ingredients from pre-measured cups.
  • Stir or mix ingredients.
  • Whisk ingredients.
  • Place food on baking sheets or trays.

Older children can grow into many tasks like:

  • Cracking and separating eggs.
  • Reading some recipes by themselves and inventing their own.
  • Using the electric mixer.
  • Stirring food over the stove (with adult supervision).
  • Grating cheese.
  • Cutting vegetables and fruits (with adult supervision if needed).
  • Setting the table for dinner.

Dr. Nasta’s Kid-Friendly “Chicken Fingers” Recipe (without the chicken!)

Prep time 15-20 mins.  Cook time 10-12 mins.

  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp unprocessed salt, divided
  • 2 free range eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano and 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/4 tsp dried sage
  • 1 lb extra firm organic/non-GMO tofu, drained and patted dry
  • 2 tbs olive oil

parent + child: Gather 3 medium size bowls and put them on the counter.

child: Measure the flour and 1/4 tsp of the salt.  Mix together in one of the bowls.

parent + child: Crack the eggs into the second bowl and then whisk gently.

child: Measure the bread crumbs, cheese, basil, thyme, oregano, 1/2 tsp salt, and sage in the third bowl and mix.

parent + child: Slice tofu into 8 rectangles by cutting the block into 4 equal pieces and then cutting each piece in half.

parent + child: Roll each piece of tofu in the flour, then coat them with egg, and finally cover them with the bread crumb mixture.  Set aside on a separate plate.

parent: Heat a large saute pan or skillet over low-medium heat.  Add the olive oil, then place each piece of tofu in the pan.  Flip after 4-5 minutes.

child: Prepare for the cooked tofu fingers by putting a paper towel on a plate.

parent: When tofu fingers are crispy, place on the paper towel.  Serve hot, with marinara dipping sauce!