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LETTING YOUR CHILDREN COOK

By Mary Emma Allen

How delightful for a mother when her children want to cook and take over the meal preparation for her. It also can be a companionable time when Mom and children work at cooking projects together. But it does take a great deal of patience to let young cooks into your kitchen. Often it would be quicker and easier to do the work yourself. However, the rewards are worth it, if you will let your tots become involved in your cooking.

I realize I was fortunate as a child because Mother encouraged my sister and me to cook as soon as we took an interest in the culinary arts. I've discovered that many mothers discourage their children from cooking and making a mess of the kitchen.

But once your children are old enough to really cook, both Mom and youngsters can have enjoyable experiences. My daughter Beth has always been interested in cooking ever since she was old enough to stir a spoon around in a bowl.

As she became older and more capable, she often took over the meal making, experimenting with new recipes. Also, during her teen years, getting the evening meal was a time for mother/daughter chats and companionship.

Nowadays my kitchen is invaded by granddaughter and grandson who also like to be involved with cooking. Kara, at seven, and Alex, three, enjoy helping stir and measure ingredients. Cooking often becomes a family adventure which fortunately the adults in their lives have the patience to experience with them.

A Beginning Activity
As a learning activity, you might let a very young child have an empty plastic or stainless steel bowl and wooden spoon. While you mix your ingredients, the youngster can stir a bowl of imaginary ingredients on the floor or at the counter beside you.

As your child grows older, he or she will tire of pretend cooking and want to be in the middle of the "real" thing. So when you're baking cookies, give the child a teaspoon and show her how to drop dough onto the cookie sheet. Or roll out dough and let the children cut it with cookie cutters. A less messy method nowadays is letting them use a press, not a cutter, and imprint designs into balls of dough on the cookie sheet.

Easy Starter Recipes
Even spreading bread with mayonnaise, butter or peanut butter for sandwiches can be exciting for a child, I've discovered. "I made my own sandwich," a 3-year old will exclaim with pride.

Another easy task for children is placing refrigerated-type biscuits from the containers onto a baking sheet. You can make many simple variations from these, too, which children can help with. Try cutting each biscuit into quarters; then let the children roll them into a cinnamon-sugar mixture and place on baking sheet. Ice after baking.

Instilling Ideas of Good Nutrition
While our youngsters are learning to cook is a good time to instill in them some of the basics of good nutrition. We can teach them about balanced meals, high and low calorie meals, low-cholesterol foods, nutritious yet tasty snacks, etc.

Teach Cooking Safety
Also we can teach them cooking safety around hot stoves and ovens.
If your children are too young to be around the stove themselves, be sure that you're there to guide them. Little tots, like our 3-year old grandson, likes to sit on a step stool and watch at a distance as we work around the stove. He feels he's part of the cooking activity, can see what's going on, but is not in danger of getting burned.

Building Memories
Taking time to cook with your children enables them to develop skills that will serve them well throughout their lives. Also this gives you an opportunity to develop memories and a relationship that can last throughout the years.

c Mary Emma Allen 1998

E-mail is: me.allen@juno.com;
Web site: http://homepage.fcgnetworks.net/jetent/mea/

BIO - Mary Emma Allen is a columnist, children's writer, newsletter editor, book writer. Her books are: When We Become the Parent to Our Parents, Writing in Maine, New Hampshire & Vermont, Tales of Adventure & Discovery, and The Magic of Patchwork.

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