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TELL THE KIDS TO 'CHOP, CHOP!'

Chicago Tribune

As school winds to a close and little hands go in search of amusement, your kitchen can double as a classroom.

"Cooking touches on so many life skills - math, science, reading, social studies, history, nutrition," says chef and author Cricket Azima, founder of the Creative Kitchen, a Chicago company that promotes culinary skills among children.

The trick, Azima says, is finding recipes and tasks that are age-appropriate and set your child up for success. She offers the following pointers.

- Choose foods you want them to eat. "A lot of parents relegate cooking with kids to pizza and cupcakes. But kids can help with pretty much any recipe. Even a 1 1/2-year-old can help tear herbs."

That includes salad. "Start with a salad that's heavy on fruits and vegetables and cheese, and add a little bit of lettuce. Next time add a little more lettuce." And whatever you do, don't call it salad. "Give it a fun name. I make a couscous salad that I call Counting Couscous. I have a rice salad that I call Rainbow Rice."

- Celebrate the season. "Summer lends itself to fresh fruits and veggies. Try making them into a fruit soup that isn't an exact science but more of an art. You can cut up a bunch of fresh fruit and add it to fruit juice or coconut milk. Maybe float some marshmallows in it."

-Do the prep. "If you're working with mango, for example, I like to cut it away from the pit, take the skin off and cut it into strips that a child can cut. If it's carrots, I peel them and slice them thin enough to cut with a plastic knife."

- Don't hover. "It's frustrating for the child and for everybody if the parent is constantly saying, 'Oh no! That's not how you do it!' and trying to take over the task."

EASY

Fruit Salsa

3 to 4 small tomatoes

1 pint strawberries (or mango, pineapple, etc.)

1 seedless cucumber

1 red onion, optional

1 red bell pepper

1 yellow or orange bell pepper

1 can (15 1/2 ounces) black beans, drained, rinsed

1 cup fresh corn kernels

Juice of 2 limes

1 cup fresh cilantro

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons salt

Freshly ground pepper

Corn tortilla chips

Dice tomatoes, strawberries, cucumber, onion and peppers; place in a bowl. Add beans, corn and lime juice. Remove cilantro leaves from stems; add leaves to bowl. Mix olive oil, salt and pepper to taste in a small bowl; pour over salsa. Mix well; serve with chips.

Serves 12.

Source: Creative Kitchen, Chicago

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