6 Surprising Tips for Cooking with Kids

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Photo by: shironosov

shironosov

For children, seeing frozen red raspberries whizzed into a shockingly pink smoothie, muffins rise in the oven, or a fried egg yolk turn from golden to light-salmon colored isn't just educational; it's magic. Cooking with kids is messy and time-consuming, but the life skills your children learn are totally worth the effort. As the mom of four children ages 5 to 12, I've spent a lot of time in the kitchen with my kids. Here are six tips that my friends find most surprising:

1. Use your sharpest knives.

Dull knives are actually more dangerous than sharp knives for kids and adults. Sharp knives slide smoothly and easily through food. Knife accidents generally occur when we have to use pressure or saw our way through slicing with a dull knife. That's also when knife slippage can occur. Two keys to safety are first: Monitor children to make certain their fingers stay a safe distance from the blade. And second: Allow children to slice only items that have a flat surface and sit solidly on the cutting board; prep rounded foods like onions or apples into halves and place them on the cutting board cut-side down so the foods are sitting flat.

2. Encourage messiness.

Cleaning up as you go is a wise habit to encourage. This helps keep a child's work space clear of clutter. But I found out the hard way that I was putting too much emphasis on cleanliness. When I asked my 8-year-old why she hadn't helped me in the kitchen lately, she told me she didn't want to upset me by making a mess. Point taken! Now we put more emphasis on clean-up at the end.

3. Let kids lick the beaters, spoons and their fingers.

Not only is licking your fingers fun, but it helps children experience food through all their senses. (Just remind them to wash their hands after licking their fingers.) Lick the beaters after whipping up cream, but before adding sugar or vanilla to experience real creaminess. Taste a spoonful of the soup before and after adding salt; if children like the soup even before salt, you may be able to add less salt.

4. Eat dessert first.

Nothing kills the joy of measuring and mixing up a batch of oatmeal cookies like being told you'll have to wait until after dinner to taste them. I'm a dietitian, but I'm still a big believer in dessert with dinner. If my kids eat dessert before dinner, that's fine; then it's seen as a component of the meal, not a reward for eating veggies. Also, they aren't eating dessert at the end of the meal, when their tummies might already be full.

5. Touch everything, even raw meat and eggs.

Teach your children where their food comes from and how it feels. Have them touch dirt-encrusted vegetables. Discover the differing feel of fresh mushroom gills and smooth mushroom tops. Have them help you mix up meatloaf by squishing their hands in the raw ground meat and eggs. Children will be more apt to try a new food when they've invested in the preparation of it.

6. Don't wait for the perfect time.

Let kids help make dinner even on time-crunched nights. With one kid at the table doing homework, one practicing piano (loudly), one dancing underfoot, it doesn't seem to be the perfect time to let the fourth kid help me with dinner. But I try to never say no. There is always some chopping or measuring to do. And beginning readers can read the next step on the recipe with pride.

And before long, you'll be saying something like this to your kid: "Don't forget to make a snack for your club meeting tomorrow. Here's the cookbook, have at it."

Serena Ball, MS, RD is a food writer and registered dietitian nutritionist. She blogs at TeaspoonOfSpice.com sharing tips and tricks to help families find healthy living shortcuts. Follow her @TspCurry on Twitter and Snapchat.

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