Make cooking a family affair :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
When Todd Pinsky cooks dinner, he's usually joined by his eager daughters, Emma, 5½, and Stella, 3. And, although the girls probably slow down dinner preparation, Pinsky wouldn't think of firing his sous-chefs.
"I'm concerned that my daughters are getting their food influences from television commercials. Commercials make bad food pretty exciting. Showing them how to cook is one way to battle that," says Pinsky, a writer and stay-at-home dad in Santa Cruz, Calif.
He's not the only one who thinks it's important to teach your children to cook.
"If your kids aren't involved in food preparation you have to change that," says Keith Ayoob, a New York-based spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.
"If it's a hassle, sorry. Cooking is under the heading of life skills. If you're detached from cooking, you're detached from good eating habits," Ayoob says.
Getting your children into the kitchen may be the last thing on your mind at the end of the day. But the lessons you teach now will pay off immediately and for years to come.
"Cooking together is a good way to connect," Ayoob says. "You have interaction with your children while you're chopping and stirring. A lot can be said while you're tearing lettuce."
For Pinsky's daughters, cooking is a way to do "grown-up" things.
"You can't let the 5-year-old steer the car on the expressway, but you can let her flip the pancakes," says Pinsky, author of Homedaddy (Push Pull Press, 2003).
Emma and Stella's favorite recipes are pancakes, French toast and scrambled eggs. Poking at food with a spatula appeals to the girls' image of what one does when cooking, says the dad.
"Stella gets up on a stepladder and pokes at the eggs with a long-handled spatula, while I'm standing next to her. Emma flips pancakes," Pinsky says.
Mechanical chores such as drying lettuce in a spinning salad bowl, sifting flour or stirring batter appeal to the girls' high-energy levels. The cooking family avoids long recipes.
"It's not fair to put a roast in the oven and make a child wait for two hours," says Pinsky.
Once you and your children start cooking together, you'll notice some exciting changes. They may be less picky about what they eat, or they may be more adventurous in their food choices, according to Pinsky.
But perhaps the greatest benefit will come when your children are independent. You'll be confident they can cook nourishing meals for themselves instead of relying on fast food restaurants for their meals. And that's no small accomplishment.
If you're wondering where to start, try an easy pizza. Toddlers as young as 2 can make this pizza with you. If you think your child is old enough to handle the oven himself, sit back and let your son or daughter take over. At the very least, skip the parent steps when working with a school-aged child.
Dinner Pizzas 1/2 cup canned pizza sauce 4 small whole-wheat pita breads 1 cup shredded carrots 1 cup sliced muchrooms 1 red bell pepper 16 cherry or grape tomatoes 2 cups shredded reduced-fat mozzarella cheese Dried, crushed oregano
Child's job: Spread 2 tablespoons pizza sauce on each of 4 pita breads. Sprinkle 1/4 cup (achild's handful) of carrots and muchrooms over each pizza.
Parent's job: Core, seed and chop bell pepper. Slice cherry tomatoes in half if working with a yound child; let school-age children do this task themselves.
Child's job: Sprinkle chopped bell pepper and halved tomatoes over pizzas. Sprinkle 1/2 cup shredded cheese (a big fistful) over the vegetables. Place each pizza on a cookie sheet. Don't crowd. Sprinkle a pinch of oregano over each pizza.
Parent's job: Place the cookie sheet in a preheated 400-degree oven for 5 minutes or until the cheese melts. Remove from oven and cool 1 minute before serving.
Bev Bennett is the mother of two and the author of 30 Minute Meals for Dummies (John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2003).