Kids in the Kitchen

Inviting children into the kitchen to help cook can be fun and educational, and it can inspire creativity.

Written by Leslie Criss | Photographed by Joe Worthem

Cooking with kids in the kitchen may not be every parent’s idea of a good time, but with a bit of patience and some creativity, any mom or dad can turn the often-mundane task of making a meal into an adventure for the entire family.

The benefits of inviting your children into the kitchen to learn to cook are many. Cooking aids in cognitive development by encouraging kids to think, problem solve, follow directions and be creative. It can help with dexterity when the young cooks-in-training are taught how to measure ingredients, how to safely cut fruit and vegetables and do other food-prep tasks. And kids in the kitchen may develop a more extensive list of foods they will try if they have a hand in preparing them.

Just ask Lauren McElwain of Tupelo, who several years ago came up with Cooking as a First Language, where culturally diverse members of the community come together over something they all have in common: a love of and appreciation for food. As part of Cooking as a First Language, McElwain offers cooking classes for kids.

The recipes included in this article for Indian Chicken Kebab Drumsticks, Ukranian Cucumber-Dill Salad and Easy Italian Tiramisu, are from Cooking as a First Language classes for kids, and McElwain encourages families to try them at home.

“If you make it fun (in cooking classes or at home), kids are more likely to try things they wouldn’t normally try,” McElwain said.

So, how does a parent make cooking fun? Sometimes it depends on the kids and their ages. McElwain is Mom to three: Ava, 10; Clark, 9; and Phoebe, 4.

“Ava loves to cook if it’s something that interests her,” McElwain said. “We have fun; I love it when she gets in her zone. My son does not love cooking, though he does make his own ramen.”

And although Phoebe may be a little young for her first cooking lessons, she has already learned to like some wholesome foods at an early age, including tomatoes and cucumbers.

McElwain said her children like a charcuterie-type experience, so she has taken that concept in different directions.

“We’ve done a sushi charcuterie and a pizza charcuterie,” she said. “Just laying things out in charcuterie-style.”

Allowing kids to invite a few of their friends over to cook together can also make the adventure more fun, McElwain said. She also suggested turning on music while cooking and letting the kids design creative tablescapes.

“That’s part of it,” she said. “My daughter loves making a festive table for fun family meals.”

McElwain also said she’s recently found kid-friendly knives on Amazon.

“Kids like having their own knife,” she said. “It makes them feel grown up.”

Parents should not be concerned about being expert cooks themselves.

“No expertise is needed,” she said. “The only thing that might make the time more fun is having a basic fondness for cooking.”

But even that’s not crucial.

Jessie Kilpatrick of Tupelo is not someone who loves to cook, but as her five children get older, she said she’s liking it more. Four of her kids attended McElwain’s cooking class when the menu was food from the Ukraine.

“My sister-in-law is from the Ukraine,” Kilpatrick said. “She was adopted from there in 2011.”

Clair, 9; Marshall, 8; Dan, 6; and Emma, 5, have attended other cooking classes in addition to McElwain’s. Caroline, 2, has not yet ventured into cooking.

“My daughters love cooking,” Kilpatrick said. “The boys enjoy cutting out cookies and holiday baking. What they really love to do is cut up fruit, especially strawberries.”

Kilpatrick, like McElwain, suggested trying cooking utensils made specifically for young chefs. Her kids love using them.

Lisa Lippincott of Tupelo loves sharing the kitchen with granddaughter Sidney Darsey, 8, and grandson William Darsey, 5, who live across the street from her.

For Lippincott, who grew up in Brooklyn, New York, time in the kitchen with her grandchildren is much more than fun: It’s educational and important. As the granddaughter of Italian immigrants, Lippincott developed an early appreciation for big Italian meals. Two nights a week when she was growing up were saved for pasta.

“Every Wednesday and Sunday,” she said. “We had a traditional Italian pasta meal.”

Now Lippincott is passing along some of her family traditions, especially in the kitchen, and both Sidney and William enjoy cooking with Nana.

“William loves things in order, and Sidney loves to learn,” she said. “This summer we are going to make Eggplant Parmesan. It’s a big thing in our family. We will do it assembly-line style — for all the steps — and we will have fun.” She also plans to teach her grandchildren to make cannoli, the delicious Italian pastries.

Teaching Sidney and William the history of the food she loves is an important goal for Lippincott, and spending time with them in the kitchen, watching them learn to make and appreciate Italian dishes brings her pure joy.

“It’s love,” she said. “It’s passing on the love. That’s what it is.”

Indian Chicken Kebab Drumsticks

Recipe contributed by Sunita Prasad

4 medium chicken drumsticks

½ teaspoon black pepper

½ ground red chile powder, optional

4 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon cumin

1 teaspoon ginger paste

1 teaspoon garlic paste

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon garam masala

Salt, to taste

1-2 tablespoons butter or olive oil

Wash and dry chicken, then rub with black pepper and chile powder, and set aside in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, mix together yogurt, lemon juice, cumin, ginger, garlic, coriander, garam masala and salt. Add yogurt mixture to chicken, cover and marinate at least 4 hours or up to overnight.

Preheat oven to 460°F. Line a baking sheet with foil, and place a wire rack on prepared baking sheet. Spray rack with cooking spray to keep chicken from sticking. Bake in preheated oven 13 to 15 minutes. Increase oven temperature to broil, and broil chicken until slightly charred, 3 to 4 minutes or. Remove from oven, and brush with butter or oil. Let cool on rack for a few minutes, and then serve with Mint Chutney (recipe below).

Mint Chutney

Recipe contributed by Sarah McCullen

½ cup Greek yogurt

½ cup chopped fresh cilantro

½ cup chopped fresh mint

1 medium jalapeno pepper

2 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon ginger paste

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ lemon, juiced (about 1½ tablespoons)

In a food processor, process all ingredients until well-combined and vibrant green. Serve with chicken kebab drumsticks.

Easy Italian Tiramisu

Recipe contributed by Lisa Lippincott

1¼ cups heavy cream

½ cup powdered sugar

1 cup mascarpone cheese

1 cup chocolate milk

21 ladyfingers cookies

¼-½ cup chocolate flakes or chips

2-3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa

In a medium bowl, whip heavy cream and sugar until soft peaks form. In a separate bowl, whip mascarpone cheese until fluffy, then gently fold into whipped cream mixture until combined.

Pour chocolate milk into a medium bowl, and dunk ladyfingers 1 at a time, turning to coat (do not leave submerged). Place 7 to 8 ladyfingers in a baking dish in a single layer. Spread one-third of the cream on the cookies. Sprinkle with chocolate flakes. Repeat layering procedure 2 times. Refrigerate at least 5 hours or up to overnight. Sprinkle top with cocoa just before serving.

Ukranian Cucumber Dill Salad

Recipe contributed by Page Thorn

4-5 cucumbers

½ teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon vinegar

Salt and pepper, to taste

Wash cucumbers, and then thinly slice into circles. Set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients. Add cucumbers to the mixture, and toss. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

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