Four-year-old Maddy Gallinson of Chicago loves to help out in
the kitchen, especially when chicken parmesan is on the menu.
So her mom, Jennifer Genovese Gallinson, knew she would love a
group cooking class with friends. They signed up for a holiday
cookie-making class at Pied Piper Parties and Playschool in
"The kids were totally enthralled with the process and so proud
of the finished product because they did it themselves. It was a
really fun way to spend time together," Gallinson says.
Like Maddy, some kids love to don aprons and help mom and dad
whip up favorite recipes. Others may be reluctant to eat anything
other than macaroni and cheese or pizza. Whether your kid is a
future Top Chef contestant or the pickiest eater on the block, all
families can benefit from cooking and eating together.
According to a study published by the National Center on
Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, families who
eat together have kids who are less likely to suffer from substance
abuse, depression or eating disorders. These same kids are more
likely to do well in school, eat their vegetables and know basic
Bottom line: Family dinners are about a lot more than food.
Preparing meals together provides even more benefits for
children. When kids help cook a meal, they tend to be more likely
to actually eat it. Plus, they learn useful life skills in the
process. By far the most important benefit is the family
interaction that takes place while everyone chops and stirs.
Because of the benefits of big and little chefs working
together, some local businesses offer cooking classes intended for
the whole family. Whether you want to bake together, learn to make
enchiladas or create an elaborate three-course meal, there is a
class for your family.
Chicago mom Elana Marre opened The Kids'
Table in 2007 because she knew that the best way to get kids to
eat healthy food was to involve them in the process.
"Eating is such a social, communal experience. We want to
include kids in every aspect-from the chopping and mixing to the
serving and even clean up," says Marre.
The Kids' Table offers a family cooking class every other Friday
in the early evening. Everyone age 2 and up is welcome to
participate. The menu changes weekly and offerings include Asian
cuisine, breakfast-for-dinner and Italian night. Participants
prepare a main course, salad or side and dessert.
Stephanie Williams, co-owner of Pied Piper
Parties and Playschool, understands that many parents want to
involve their children in cooking or baking projects, but are
deterred by the time commitment and potential for a mess. Family
cooking classes are a great option because "kids are welcome to
make a mess in our kitchen. We don't mind. Mom and dad can focus on
their kids and we'll take care of the flour on the floor later,"
Pied Piper offers two types of cooking classes: one for younger
chefs and their parents and another class for older kids who want
to learn new skills on their own. During the 75-minute class, kids
can prep, cook and devour their creations. The recipes alternate so
kids can try their hand at cooking and baking.
For those looking for more formal culinary instruction, The Chopping
Block in Lincoln Square offers a Family Night on the last
Sunday of every month. Students prepare a seasonal menu from
scratch. Popular classes include homemade pasta and make-your-own
"The recipes aren't too complicated because we want to show the
kids that they can really make it themselves," says Chef
Instructor/Curriculum Coordinator Sara Salvinski. Family Night is
appropriate for kids age 5 and up.
Regardless of the initial motivation for taking a cooking class,
participants find these experiences have something to offer every
member of the family.
Marre says parents really set the tone. "So much more can be
gained if the grown-ups in the house want to bring what they have
learned home with them."
Often both kids and parents learn new information and skills to
incorporate into their daily lives. "This is a chance for kids to
make the connection between how food is prepared with what appears
on their dinner plate," Salvinski says. Parents walk away from the
classes with new crowd-pleasing recipes and a desire to re-create
the bonding experience in their own kitchens.
Sometimes even finicky eaters are transformed. Peer pressure
often makes kids try new foods that they would not at home. "I've
seen many kids walk out of these classes exclaiming 'Hey, I do like
peas and broccoli,'" Williams says.
Cooking together is time well-spent no matter how the actual
meal turns out.
"This isn't just about the food. Cooking incorporates a little
bit of everything-creativity, a little bit of math, learning about
different cultural cuisines and healthy eating habits," she
Caitlin Murray Giles is a full-time mother of three and part-time freelance writer living in Wicker Park.
See more of Caitlin's stories here.
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