Morgan Tapp loves spinach, but she didn't always. It took a cooking class to get the nearly 8-year-old to like the leafy green.
"That's all it took. Teach her how to make it with a little garlic and olive oil and now she loves it," mom Julie Tapp of St. Petersburg says just before the two take up another lesson at an All Children's Hospital healthy kids event.
When children are involved in the cooking process, studies have shown, they are much more likely to try and like healthier choices. But it's not foolproof.
"That's what Mom told me about broccoli, but it didn't take" Morgan says.
It did for Janiya Newsome, 8, who loved the broccoli pancakes she learned to make at a Pinellas County Extension cooking class. "If she makes it, she'll try it," says her mother, pediatric nurse Santara Ford.
Classes aren't just to coax finicky kids into trying new foods. Little foodies are a growing market, and a number of local cooking stores and meal assembly sites have caught on.
Foodies of St. Petersburg has seen a growing interest in kids cooking classes and summer camp programs, manager Todd Roberts says. Once a month, 4- to 6-year-olds learn how to assemble a meal they can take home and pop in the oven. The 7- to 10-year-olds meet every other Saturday for a series of classes such as "Pastabilities," where the menu includes cannelloni with roasted red pepper sauce. And the 11 and older cooks are set free in the kitchen to make Beef Wellington or to learn how to use a torch on creme brulee.
Not all kids enjoy group cooking lessons, and they don't need to. All that's really necessary is an adult at home who can lend a hand. Including kids in the process can yield better eating habits and newfound skills, educators say.
"Every age group can do different things in the kitchen," says dietitian Sarah Krieger, who teaches cooking at All Children's. "An 18-month-old can wash lettuce or use a butter knife to spread cream cheese, and as they get older they get used to using knives and other kitchen tools with an adult's help.
"The more involved they are, the more likely they are to try what is prepared, especially when it comes to fruits and vegetables."
Another benefit that Krieger notes should catch the attention of busy parents: As they grow into teens, the kids can take over meal duties once in a while.
Sharon Kennedy Wynne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
right task, right agE
Kids are usually curious about what goes on in the kitchen, so don't hesitate to put them to work. Here are some tips from Karen Saley of the Pinellas County Extension, but remember, kids at every age level need adult supervision.
Ages 2-2 1/2
Make cooking play time, with blunt, plastic utensils, mixing bowls, pots and pans. Teach the names and uses of cooking equipment. For instance, a saucepan is put on the stove and a baking sheet is put into the oven. Talk about the characteristics of foods: Sweet or sour? Smooth or rough? Let them pour and scoop dry ingredients such as dried beans and rice.
The youngest of cooks love washing and rinsing produce and dividing it into groups. They are adept at scooping, measuring, sifting, pouring, stirring and mixing. Teaching children this age how to make bread, and the technique of kneading, works well. It's not yet time for cutting or working with heat.
Introduce the techniques of folding and beating with a handheld electric mixer and simple cutting skills with small knives. Heavy-duty plastic knives with a serrated edge work well on soft fruits and veggies and denser breads. Chopping is another skill appropriately taught at this age. With adult supervision, kids may begin to work with small paring knives at about age 9.
Kids who know the basics can begin working on the stove top with supervision. They should be capable of cooking pasta and making a grilled cheese sandwich. They may also add a few more knife cutting techniques such as dicing and slicing.
Children who have spent a great deal of time in the kitchen may begin working with high heat to saute and should continue to perfect and expand their knife skills, which now may include thin slicing, cubing and other techniques.
1 cup fat-free plain yogurt
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips
Vegetable oil spray
For the coating:
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/3 cup plain dry bread crumbs
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon shredded or grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Put the yogurt in a medium bowl. Add chicken pieces, stirring to coat. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly spray a baking sheet with vegetable spray.
In another bowl, mix the coating ingredients.
Shake off excess yogurt mixture and dip chicken one piece at a time into the dry mixture, turning gently to coat. Arrange coated chicken in a single layer on the baking sheet. Lightly spray the chicken with the vegetable oil spray.
Bake 20 minutes or until crisp (chicken should no longer be pink inside). Serves 4.
Source: American Heart Association
Carrot & Zucchini Pancakes
1/2 cup shredded zucchini
1/2 cup shredded carrot
1/2 cup shredded cheese (cheddar or Monterey Jack)
1/4 cup low-fat milk
1/2 cup pancake mix
Combine zucchini, carrot and cheese; set aside. Crack egg into a medium bowl and lightly beat with a whisk. Add milk and pancake mix and stir until just mixed. Add zucchini, carrot and cheese to batter; stir until mixed. (Mixture should be a thick but pourable consistency; you may need to adjust with a tablespoon of mix or milk.) Heat skillet to medium high (350-degree) heat. Using a tablespoon, drop pancake batter onto hot skillet and cook until bubbles form on top and the edges start to look dry (about 2 to 3 minutes). Flip pancake over and cook about 1 to 2 minutes until done.
Note: This makes a savory side dish and adults might like to add canned green chilies or hot sauce. Some kids liked these with syrup.
Makes 6 pancakes.
Source: Pinellas County Extension
Savory Broccoli Pancakes
1 head broccoli, chopped
¼ cup onion, cut into small pieces
1 large egg
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
2 teaspoons hot sauce (optional)
1 cup low-fat sharp cheddar, shredded
2/3 cup light bread crumbs such as panko
Olive or canola oil
Place broccoli and onion in a steamer basket and cook until tender, or place in a microwave-safe dish with a little water, cover and microwave until tender. Then put broccoli and onion in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped.
In a medium bowl, beat egg, then add salt, garlic and hot sauce. Add broccoli-onion mixture, cheese and bread crumbs. Mix thoroughly. Let rest for about 5 minutes.
Heat a small amount of oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat (350 degrees). Measure ¼ cup broccoli mixture and shape into pancake. Place pancake in heated skillet. Note: Pancakes will be tender, so handle carefully.
Cook for about 2 minutes, then flip and cook another 2 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.
Serve with a dollop of low-fat sour cream or yogurt, applesauce, salsa, a squeeze of lemon or more hot sauce.
Makes 10 to 12 pancakes, which is about 5 to 6 servings.
Source: Pinellas County Extension