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the kitchen table menu: Kitchen Table

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Young kids are not a problem, they always seem to want to help you in the kitchen. Heck, they’ll do dishes, sweep floors, stir what’s in the bowl, and reorganize your Tupperware. It’s the older ones, the tweeners and early teenagers, that sometimes need a little nudge to join in the kitchen fun. Here are some ideas that just might get them interested in cooking up some food, fun, and memorable moments.

Kid in Control
This one will be become a favorite — an evening where your child is in charge. You basically change places with them. They pick the dinner and do the bulk of the work, but they get to boss you around. They can tell you to chop the carrots, peel the potatoes, set the table, or feed the dog. They’re in charge. My kids love bossing me around and I love that they’re showing a little confidence in their budding cooking skills. If you try this I’m guessing they’ll also tell you to do all the dishes.

One Ingredient/One Meal

Challenge your children to come up with a recipe they’d like to try using any one ingredient that you name. They can pull out the cookbooks or go to the Internet for help. There are many cooking websites that display recipes when given just one ingredient. Depending on the age of your cook, you can make it an easy ingredient like poultry or pineapple, or a real challenge with curry or hoisin sauce. This might be a good time to use what’s in season — cabbage, grapes, broccoli, basil, etc. Not only will they make a dish they’ve never made before, but they may actually learn a little about the chosen ingredient.

Loud Music and Personal Choice
Some kids are more willing to cook if they get to pick what they want to cook, not you. They’re also more willing to cook if they’re hungry. Give them cookbooks to look through and get ideas from. Usually they’ll pick the recipe with the most appetizing picture or fewest ingredients. Try not to set rules. It’s okay if they make omelets for dinner. They’re cooking, aren’t they? As far as the music goes – let them crank it up while they’re creating in the kitchen. If that makes them a happier cook, then that makes you a happier parent.

Kids Cafe
Remember when your children were little and they liked to play restaurant? “Mommy, you sit here and tell me what you want to eat!” Then they give you a banana, hamburger, spaghetti, and milk carton, all in plastic. Now that they’re older, why not recreate the fun? With your help, have them make a very limited menu with maybe one entree, two side choices, and two vegetable/fruit choices ahead of time. You are the customer at The Kids Cafe and they get to set your table, be your waiter, and also cook and serve your food. Not only do they get to practice their cooking skills, but they get to work on following instructions, organizing their time, and learning to please a customer. So sit back and have some fun at the Kids Cafe, and don’t forget to leave a tip!

Kids + Friends + Kitchen = Party!
How about a Bring-Your-Own-Ingredient Party? Pizza works well with this concept. You supply the crusts and every child brings a different topping. This leads to some really crazy pizzas and some (gasp) experimental tasting by the kids. If not pizza, the menu headliner can be a taco or fajita bar. For dessert start with some big sugar cookie crusts and see what the kids can bring to put on top. They’re only limited by their imaginations. Can’t you just picture their proud creations?

Invent a Recipe
Let your kids think outside the recipe. This is a natural for kids, they have great imaginations. They get to use any ingredients they want, which will usually lead to discussions of what normally goes together. Sometimes you might get to discuss the definition of “gross”, and sometimes you might get into the realm of science and whether something will remain goo or become solid after baking.

Pick a Theme
It’s simple – your kids pick a theme, and every family member prepares a dish. The theme can be a meal from a different country or from a different time in history. Why not have a theme like all the food needs to be green or all the dishes have to have apples in them. There are so many possibilities, just look at what your kids are currently interested in for some ideas.

Sometimes kids just need to be pointed in the right direction — towards the kitchen. With a little patience and a blind eye towards the mess, you can help nurture a life-long love of cooking. I hope these ideas help get your children in the kitchen with you, cooking up some good food, good fun, and good memories!

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