September 27 is National Family Day, an event launched in 2001 to encourage families to eat dinner together. Spending quality time together around the table is important to your children’s futures; research shows that children who regularly eat dinner with their families are less likely to smoke, drink or use drugs.
And what better way to encourage family meal time than getting the kids to help cook? Most kids love to help in the kitchen, says Judie Byrd, founder of the Culinary School of Fort Worth, (judiebyrd.com). And when dinner is something they’ve helped make, most kids are more willing to try new foods and linger at the table, she says. Children of almost any age can help, as long as you follow these ground rules:
Make sure there is always adult supervision.
Stay relaxed; even the messiest kitchen mess can always get cleaned up. And start with age-appropriate tasks like these:
Kids 5 and under can:
• Crack eggs
• Use their (well-washed) hands to mix green salads, fruit bowls, even dough.
• Help make veggie or fruit kabobs: Kids this age love practicing patterns, and will enjoy putting strawberries, grapes and melons in sequence.
• Use a sturdy plastic knife to slice soft fruits, such as strawberries and melons.
• Make their own trail mix by picking handfuls from bowls of ingredients (nuts, dried fruit, chocolate chips, pretzels), then toss using their hands.
Kids 6-8 can:
• Stir using a spoon or whisk.
• Use measuring spoons to measure and add liquid ingredients.
• Use measuring cups to measure and add dry ingredients.
• Fill celery with peanut butter, using a plastic knife.
• Make a bread bowl for soup or salad: After an adult cuts off the top of a round loaf of bread, kids can use their hands to dig out the dough and create the bowl shape.
• Toss a salad.
Kids 9-11 can:
• Use a pastry bag to decorate a cake; tie the top with a twist tie to keep the frosting from coming out of both ends and control the mess.
• Grate cheese.
• Use a broiler.
• Mix and pour pancake batter and flip pancakes on the griddle. (Electric griddles are safer for this age than the stovetop.)
• Follow simple recipes.
• Use a paring knife to cut veggies and fruits.
Kids and teens 12 and up can:
• Use a chef knife (after mastering use of a paring knife).
• Choose recipes from cookbooks.
• Follow more complicated recipes, including those for casseroles, cookies and soups.
• Use the stove and oven with minimal supervision.
• Learn and master the sequence of making an entire meal (i.e., what needs to go on the stove in what order, to get the meal to the table in time).
• Use most kitchen appliances, such as blenders and mixers.