7 Ways to Get Your Kids Into the Kitchen

Spark your child's interest in healthy eating with these creative tips for kids of all ages

All the food pyramids in the world won't get your kids interested in healthy eating as much as getting their hands and hearts into it will. Connecting food to everyday experiences, letting them be hands-on in the kitchen and helping them to see food as a part of culture and history or art and science will make eating fun and interesting.

For Little Children
The younger crowd has not yet been bombarded with nutrition facts and figures, or an overload of "eat it, it's good for you." They are still receptive and open to experiencing food. If you can set aside a small space in the kitchen and a small bit of your tolerance and patience (face it, they're going to make a mess and waste some food), then they will begin to learn about food inside and out, while you sneak in a few comments about nutrition.

1. Curiosity Cabinet
In a lower cupboard, set aside at least the lower shelf for use by your baby and toddler. Supply it with the kitchen tools they need. Those include only those your imagination can put to use — yogurt containers with lids, (fill with beans to make a tambourine), an old oatmeal box (good drum material), plastic bowls (for stirring and mixing), plastic measuring spoons, wooden spoons, rubber spatulas, plastic cookie cutters, a rolling pin and plastic measuring cups.

2. Salt Dough
If you haven't already experienced salt dough, you'll  be more than happy with this new discovery. It was a real mainstay in my house for many years. Together, you and your child can mix up the dough, then you can set him to work molding, sculpting, rolling and cutting, pounding and squishing.

Salt Dough:
1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
A little less than 1/2 cup water

Mix flour and salt, add water until mixture holds together like dough; knead. This dough will keep in the refrigerator for a few days if stored in plastic.

Once the final shape has been decided, bake it in a warm oven (200 to 250 degress F) until dry. Thicker pieces will take longer and may be better air dried. Once dried, they can be painted. Some great ideas are: hand impression plaques, cookie cutter ornaments, animal sculptures, beads and freeform shapes.

2. Fruit and Vegetable People
Choose fruits and vegetables that are edible when raw. Use toothpicks or peanut butter to put the pieces together.

Some people you can make:
Curtis Cucumber
Begin with a small cucumber for the body, poke a hole in each side and insert a couple of green beans for arms. Two small cherry tomatoes can be applied as bulging eyes. Insert a small carrot stick or baby carrot for the nose. Make a smile with a red pepper slice and add parsley for hair.

While you are creating this green man, you can talk about how eating carrots help you see in the dark and that red peppers help cuts to heal faster. Talk about how the food is grown, then follow that up with growing a garden in the summer. After having made this clever creation, your child may just be enticed to eat him. Or, serve him at dinner for the whole family to enjoy. Your kid's pleasure in your reaction may also inspire her to take a few bites of those fresh vegetables.

Annie Apple
This is a creation on a flat plate. Cut two round apple slices for big eyes, add some blueberry pupils, a strawberry nose, orange section ears, banana cheeks, grapefruit section smile, and orange and apple peel curls for hair. You can use the rest of the fruits for a mixed salad. Your little one's plate now holds a fruit-filled smiley face begging to be eaten. Offer a little vanilla yogurt for dipping the fruit into.

Try your collective imagination at creating Tommy Tomato, Penelope Peach, Pepper Pete, Buster Banana, or make up other creations like melon boats and banana cars. All the while you can discuss what the food is, who else likes to eat it (monkeys, kids on the other side of the world, grandma) and how else it is used (juice, tomato sauce, soups).

3. Bean bags
Fill a couple of resealable sandwich bags with dried beans, offer a target and allow a little bean bag tossing.

4. Pretzel animals
In a big bowl, mix together 1 package yeast, 1 1/2 cups warm water, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 1 tablespoon salt. Stir in 4 cups white flour and 2 cups of whole wheat flour and knead on a counter dusted with flour until the dough is smooth. Shape into animal shapes, brush with a beaten egg and sprinkle with a little salt. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes at 425 degrees F.

5. Muffin mixes
You can find some wholesome ones that require only an egg and milk to be added. It's an easy project with quick results.

For older children
Older children will enjoy a little bit more responsibility and sophistication in their kitchen projects. They now might be tired of hearing about which foods are good for them and which are not. Other aspects of food may help keep them interested while deepening their knowledge of food.

1. Try a Cultural Approach
A very memorable cold, rainy evening at our house involved renting the movie Ghandi and ordering takeout food from the local Indian restaurant. The food was wonderful, and very different from our normal fare. The kids were more willing to try it than under normal circumstances, and they were able to make a much better connection between the food and its people. This same idea can be applied to any age group. How about Mary Poppins and a tea party with scones and tea? The Sound of Music and some cheese fondue would be wonderful fun.

Here is a fondue recipe that contains no wine (like the traditional recipe) and is easy enough for most kids to make, or help make. Fondue is the French word for "melted" and it originated in the French-speaking part of Switzerland (the country to which the Von Trapps escaped to).

2 cups of low fat milk
1 pound grated Swiss cheese
3 tablespoons flour
Cubes of sturdy bread, like a French baguette

1. Heat the milk in the top of a double boiler until simmering.

2. Mix the flour and the grated cheese (it helps keep the cheese dispersed while melting instead of ending up in a big blob to sink to the bottom of the milk).

3. Drop the cheese by handfuls into the hot milk and stir until the cheese is all melted and bubbly.

4. Place the double boiler (or put into a fondue pot) and put in the middle of the table with the basket of bread cubes.

5. Using fondue forks or regular forks, spear the bread and dip into the cheese.

2. Try An Economic Approach
This is a bigger project and will take lots of involvement on your part. Give your child a certain sum of money and allow him to plan, shop, and prepare a meal.

Make sure you have some kid-friendly recipes around the house for your child to use. A particularly favorite book my children (now 11 and 13) have been using for the past three or four years is a cookbook written by kids called Kids Cook! by Sarah and Zachary Williamson. It includes a section on kitchen safety, useful utensils and kitchen terms. We've enjoyed lots of yummy recipes from the book, including oven fried chicken, Faux Lasagna and Dad's Belgian Waffles.

This project can be a good way for kids to learn about the price of food, why some people may end up going hungry, and how difficult it can be to make a budget work.

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