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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."


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