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I’m fairly confident that when my kids look back on their fond childhood memories, hours spent in the kitchen with me will be near the top of that list.  I *love* to cook – both the experience of creating, and sharing the enjoyment of the food with others.  With 3 young children, my cooking is far less experimental and indulgent these days, but I’m still finding myself logging plenty of time in the kitchen.  It is such a joy for me to share my passion with my kiddos – especially since they love it as much as I do.  It is an opportunity to connect, engage, and empower.  Lots of great life lessons can be learned with measuring cups and whisks in hand!

My son came to live with us at 3.5…I’m sure you can imagine what those first few weeks were like given how much preschoolers love change, strangers, chaos, and a complete and total lack of control over their lives…but one of the first things we did was to get him cooking. Day 2 = mac and cheese.  Day 3 = gingerbread cookies.  Hands-on, focused energy, and working side by side.  He was hooked and we haven’t looked back since!

Sarah offered up some great ideas on fun things to cook with kids (here) and one that I could add to that list is chicken parm! (no really!)  We use a few short cuts, but aside from the actual baking part, this is a meal that my kids can make entirely by themselves – which thrills them to no end.  As it turns out, they like cooking for others just as much as I do (which is sweet, but not so much a win when it comes to the broccoli!).

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Step 1.  Place chicken patties on a baking sheet. Top with sauce, then sprinkle with cheese.

Step 2. Hand to an adult to bake! (15 minutes at 350)

Not scary at all, right?

You could even assign your toddler the broccoli side dish:

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Step 1. Dump broccoli florets into a bowl.  Drizzle with olive oil and toss. Season with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. (I recommend pre-measuring those ingredients for the tiny helpers).  Spread onto baking sheet.  Sometimes I let them sprinkle with grated Parmesan…if I’m feeling feisty.

Step 2. Hand to an adult to bake! (15 minutes at 400)

Delish. Seriously. And while it hasn’t quite worked out for me that my little ones are more willing to eat vegetables that they cooked (the little buggers will very graciously cook them “for mommy”), it does offer an opportunity to expose them to new veggies and to talk about healthy choices, balancing our plates, and nutrition in an organic setting.  My son would eat the entire pan of broccoli himself so I’m going to consider 1 out of 3 a victory.

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Along with basic meal prep, another way we love to get into the kitchen is through literature.  Top 2 things I do with my kids: cook and read. Why not put them together?? I can personally attest that reading If You Give a Moose a Muffin with a muffin straight from the oven rocks.  And, I’m pretty sure it was fate that brought me an incredible lemon blueberry loaf recipe shortly following our love affair with Blueberries for Sal.  Here is a great list of cooking projects to pair with children’s books and I just adore Marie’s Octonauts Muffins for some additional inspiration!

The next step for my chef-apprentice and I will be to take some cooking classes together.  I’m kind of giddy about the idea. (Can we take a moment to contemplate mommy and me aprons?!?)  I’ve been scoping out the options for central CT and I’m thrilled to report that there are quite a few:

  • Stew Leonard’s in Newington offers culinary classes for kids
  • Lincoln Culinary Institute in Hartford now offers recreational classes, including one for kids. (email ggolas@lincolntech.com for info)
  • My City Kitchen  in Meriden offers cooking classes for kids ages 6-17 with a focus on healthy eating habits.

I’m squealing inside right now. Off to sign up for a class (or 6). I’ll be sure to report back!

Have any fun kitchen memories to share? What is your favorite dish to cook with your little helpers?

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