"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 company aimed at promoting culinary skills among children.
And the rewards are much yummier than a report card. 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 11/2-year-old can help tear herbs. The more kids are exposed to preparing different foods, the less foreign they are and the more likely they are to eat them."
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 allows for a lot of fun and 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 work. "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." The end result might not look ideal, but that's not really the point, now, is it?
Azima's fruit salsa offers plenty of slicing and stirring for little hands, along with nutrients for little bodies.
Prep: 40 minutes
3-4 small tomatoes
1 pint strawberries (or mango, pineapple, etc.)
1 seedless cucumber
1 red onion, optional
1 red bell pepper