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Send your kids to summer camp in the kitchen

When school is out for the summer, it's a tricky parent who can keep the learning going and get dinner on the table at the same time.

Consider turning your kitchen into a summer camp, with the activities (don't call them chores) tailored to the age of the campers. Little kids are able to measure flour and stir a big bowl of ingredients, while older teens can handle knives if they've had some direction and practice. Everyone can help with the meal planning.

Before thoughts of food and dirty dishes strewn from floor to ceiling make you want to call for takeout, think about the things children learn when they cook. The lessons go way beyond preparing meals. The knowledge and skills needed to cook are much more encompassing than you might think:

Finding a recipe, shopping for ingredients, following directions all involve READING.

Planning a meal or a weekly menu, making out a grocery list involve WRITING.

Counting, measuring, staying on budget are all about MATH.

Then there is the honing of MOTOR SKILLS by mashing, stirring, scooping, cutting things, cracking an egg, rolling out dough, decorating a cake.

And last but definitely not least is the COMMON SENSE you teach them about eating healthy foods, making informed decisions, learning to improvise, being flexible, adapting.

We did some research and talked to Kellie Gilmore, coordinator of All Children's Hospital's Fit4Allkids, a program designed to keep kids healthy and to help you teach your kids to cook — no matter how old they are.

"When kids become part of the process, they become more adventurous eaters, willing to try healthy options, willing to eat different colors and types of food. I've never seen a kid not try food they've prepared themselves," Gilmore said.

Okay, camp counselors, start your timers.

See you in the dining hall.

Kitchen skills

These general guidelines will help you plan cooking activities for your children that are age appropriate and instructive.

— Patti Ewald

Campers 2 years old

They can't cook yet, but they can still learn.

• Let them watch, smell, touch and taste as you prepare meals.

• Teach them about "hot!"

• Show them the importance of cleanliness as you wash your hands before preparing meals.

Campers ages 3-4

They turn into better helpers.

• Teach them to add ingredients, stir.

• Let them help roll out and knead dough.

• Start talking about what a recipe is and measuring ingredients for it.

• Keep reminding them of kitchen dangers. Perhaps add "sharp!" to "hot!"

Campers Ages 4-5

Welcome to the "I can do it myself" stage.

• Let them add some finishing touches to foods: toppings to pizza, croutons to salad.

• Teach them to crack eggs.

• Show them how ingredients are measured and weighed.

• Start teaching basic knife skills like spreading butter on toast.

• If you're brave enough and they are interested enough, start making basic recipes with them like pancakes.

By the time they are 6, campers should know assembling, tearing, pouring, measuring, spreading, stirring, mixing and sprinkling; they should know what's sharp, what's hot and what will make you sick if you eat it. They should know basic knife safety, proper food handling, tying back long hair and the importance of hand washing. And then, when they reach grade school, the real cooking begins.

Grade School Campers ages 6 to 9

As their independence grows, cooking helps their "I can do it" confidence. Constant supervision still required.

• Graduate from butter knives to sharper ones and show them how to always keep their fingers tucked in when cutting.

• Show them how to get ingredients ready to put in a slow cooker.

• Let them cook on the stove (saute, pan-fry) with supervision.

• Show them how to use small appliances like blenders and mixers.

• Teach them how to grate food and not their fingers.

• Remind them to keep pot and pan handles turned toward the back of the stove.

• Teach them to use oven mitts or hot pads.

Prepare a dish

• Let them help choose a recipe. Read it together and avoid those with skills that are out of reach or that take too long.

• Make a list of the ingredients needed and then let your camper help check the cupboards and refrigerator, crossing off with a pencil the ingredients you have.

• Take advantage of the trip to teach your child things like why some foods are better than others — nutritionally, ethically or ecologically.

• Teach kids to shop the perimeter of the store, where the freshest, least processed foods are.

• Read nutrition labels together to compare and determine healthy choices.

• Teach them about food spoilage and freshness and where to check for expiration dates.

Big Kid Campers ages 10 to 13

Now it gets fun. Tweens know the basics; now use food to spark interesting discussions on nutrition, culture, where food comes from and self-sufficiency.

• Teach them how to move baking trays, pans, casseroles in and out of the oven (do it in a cool oven first) with different weight foods and different size pans.

• Time to learn cutting and chopping with a chef knife —a 6-incher is better than an 8-incher for this age — keeping fingers tucked in while cutting. Use a cutting board that won't slide around, like a thick silicone one with rubberized corners, or put a wooden cutting board on a slightly damp kitchen towel.

• Even though they can do a lot of things, it's best to not let them drain hot liquids. Those burns are far worse than any from the oven.

• If your child is really into it, let him or her make — and stick to — a food budget; or make a dinner plan for the week, choosing meals that need easy ingredients, hopefully the same for a couple of meals.

• Keep a shopping list (adding items you run out of during the week) and show your child how much easier shopping is if the items are written in the order the items appear in the store.

• Don't think they'll never eat quick and processed foods, so teach them to compare nutrition labels to find the healthiest choices among not-so-healthful foods.

Teen Campers 13 and older Time for the most important lessons of all.

• Assuming they are now proficient at all the skills above, it's time to teach teens how to improvise. They don't have or don't like a called-for ingredient? Help them develop the ability to determine if a recipe is suitable for modification. Can an apple cobbler be a blueberry cobbler? If so, what other ingredients have to be adjusted? Adaptability when it comes to recipes can translate into flexibility in other areas of your child's life.

• Most teens are ready to take on what had been adults-only tasks like moving food in and out of the oven, cutting with a large knife and pouring hot liquids. Just keep a close eye on them.


>>FOR AGES 4-5

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bites

½ cup natural peanut butter

¼ cup finely chopped pretzels

½ cup dark chocolate chips, melted

Line a baking sheet with wax paper.

In a small bowl, combine the peanut butter and pretzels. Chill in the freezer until firm, about 15 minutes.

Roll the mixture into 20 balls (about 1 teaspoon each). Place on the baking sheet and freeze for at least 2 hours, or until very firm.

Melt the chocolate in the microwave for 30 seconds. Stir and microwave for 20 seconds. Repeat until chocolate is melted.

Roll the peanut butter balls in the melted chocolate and place back on baking sheet. Freeze until the chocolate is set, about 30 minutes. Keep frozen until serving.


>>FOR AGES 6-9

Kameron's Favorite Smoothie

1 cup nonfat milk or 80-calorie vanilla soy or coconut milk

1 frozen and sliced banana

1 tablespoon chocolate-hazelnut spread

½ cup sliced frozen strawberries

½ cup fresh spinach

Place all ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth.

Source: Kameron Krieger, 10, of St. Petersburg

>>FOR AGES 6-9

Pizza Muffin Mummies

Watch a video of Stella Puckett and Laurel Plexico making this dish at

4 whole wheat English muffins, split

8 tablespoons pizza sauce

16 pitted black olive slices

1 tablespoon green bell pepper pieces

4 reduced-fat mozzarella string cheese sticks

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (a grownup has to help with the oven).

Toast English muffins in toaster.

Spread 1 tablespoon of pizza sauce on each English muffin half.

Set olive slices in place for eyes and add bits of green bell pepper in the center of the olive slices.

Pull apart string cheese into strips. Arrange strips of string cheese across the muffin above and below the olive slices so it looks like a mummy face. Don't cover the (eyes) olives.

Bake for about 5 minutes, or until the cheese is melted.


>>AGES 10-13

Slow Cooker Chicken and Dumplings

If you keep an eye on your tweens as they dice the onion the night before, they can have this do-it-yourselfer on the table when you get home from work.

4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves

2 tablespoons butter

2 (10.75 ounce) cans condensed cream of chicken soup

1 onion, finely diced

2 (10 ounce) packages refrigerated biscuit dough, torn into pieces

Place the chicken, butter, soup and onion in a slow cooker and fill with enough water to cover.

Cover, and cook for 5 to 6 hours on high. About 30 minutes before serving, place the torn biscuit dough in the slow cooker. Cook until the dough is no longer raw in the center.


>>AGES 10-13

Chicken Parm Pizza

1 store-bought pizza dough

Cornmeal or flour, for dough

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (2 turns of the pan plus a drizzle)

1 pound ground chicken

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 small onion, chopped

Salt and pepper

Handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Couple pinches crushed red pepper flakes

Couple pinches dried oregano

1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce

1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1 ½ cups shredded provolone

5 to 6 leaves basil, torn or shredded

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Coat hands and work surface with a little cornmeal or flour. Using your hand or a rolling pin, form a 14-inch round pizza. Place pizza on a baking sheet or pizza stone and poke the top with a few holes. Drizzle a little bit of extra-virgin olive oil down over the dough and place in oven. Bake 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a deep skillet over medium-high heat with 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. Add meat and break it up with a wooden spoon. To browned meat, add garlic and onions, then season with salt and pepper. Cook together 5 to 6 minutes then add parsley, red pepper flakes, oregano and the tomatoes to the pan. Heat the sauce through.

Remove pizza from oven after 10 minutes and top with sauce and cheeses. Return to oven and bake until golden and bubbly, another 10 to 12 minutes. Top the pizza with basil, cut and serve.

Source: Rachael Ray,

Food Network


Mac Daddy Mac 'n' Cheese

2 shallots, peeled

3 cloves garlic

1 teaspoon olive oil

3 pieces bacon, diced, cooked, reserving 1 tablespoon bacon fat

2 tablespoons flour

4 cups heavy cream

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

1 cup shredded pepper jack cheese

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 pound penne pasta, cooked

½ cup panko bread crumbs

2 tablespoons melted butter

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place shallots and garlic in a small aluminum foil pouch and drizzle with olive oil. Roast 20 to 30 minutes or until tender. Remove from foil and chop.

In a large saute pan, reheat reserved bacon fat over medium heat. Add roasted shallot

and garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add flour and stir for 1 minute. Whisk in heavy cream and thyme. Reduce by a third. Stir in cheeses until melted, creamy and thickened. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Remove from heat and gently stir in pasta. Place in a 9- by 13-inch casserole dish. In a small bowl, mix together diced bacon, bread crumbs, butter and parsley. Top with panko mixture and bake uncovered at same heat until bubbling and lightly browned on top, 20 to 25 minutes.

Source: Guy Fieri, Food Network

Send your kids to summer camp in the kitchen 05/26/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 28, 2014 10:32am]
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