A fair percentage of my cooking lessons and interactive events are with adults, but I also often teach kids.
Many experts believe that getting children involved in what they eat is an important step in expanding their palates and making them better eaters. Logically, having kids help in the actual cooking process is a great way to achieve this goal.
The dishes I cook with kids vary depending on their age, but we always use real food, not packaged or processed ingredients. As I’ve written previously, I believe that it is essential for children to know how food grows and what it looks like in its natural state. Broccoli does not grow as florets conveniently packaged in a plastic container, but rather on a big, thick stalk, surrounded by edible, leafy greens.
So what do I cook with kids? With younger children, I like to make real versions of the dishes they are familiar with from school lunches, kids’ menus at restaurants or the incessant marketing campaigns of the big food companies.
Fish sticks are one example. Instead of microwaving the processed frozen version, we’ll simply and quickly make our own from scratch.
We’ll cut fresh flounder into pieces, dip into a real mixed egg and coat with real bread crumbs. We’ll then pan fry the fish sticks in real butter and/or olive oil, let them drain on paper towels and add a sprinkle of sea salt and a squirt of juice from a lemon. For a sauce, we’ll mix together equal parts Dijon mustard and real mayonnaise, plus add a squeeze of juice from a lime.
The same straightforward principles are employed when we make spaghetti and meatballs, chips and guacamole, hamburgers, pizzas, shrimp rolls and fruit crisps.
Invariably, the kids will eat what they helped cook. They don’t love it all, but at least they’ll taste everything.
And according to a recent New York Times article, studies show that “When children were involved in cooking their own foods, they were more likely to eat those foods in the cafeteria, and even ask for seconds, than children who had not had the cooking class.”