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This chapter is going to be about cooking for and by kids, but I got the idea for it when I was thinking about something entirely different. I was idly wondering, “When is Frank the absolute happiest and most content?” Part of me instantly wanted to answer, “When working, of course.” I believe that for him business is pleasure. If it’s a busy time, he’ll happily get along for weeks at a time on four hours sleep and work the rest except for meals. When it gets really busy, I’ve seen him get by on two hours$and still relish the work.
But there are certainly other things he enjoys. He’s an avid baseball fan and the best Father’s Day gift I think he ever got was tickets to go to one of the Oriole games with his son Jim and grandson Ryan. He also loves dancing (his nickname years ago used to be “twinkle toes”).
Still, I think the time that he looks the most relaxed and content and generally pleased with life is when the four children and twelve grandchildren are here. They’re scattered from Maine to Virginia, so we don’t get them often, but when we do, it’s an occasion. And it’s one when I want to have food that I can count on the kids’ liking.
Here are some of the principles of cooking for young children that I’ve learned from the Perdue home economists and from Cooperative Extension. I’m guessing that if you have kids, you know their preferences pretty well, but if you’re entertaining other kids, these tips may come in handy.
_Finger foods such as chicken nuggets are always a hit. I keep a carton or two on hand for a never-fail snack food for kids$or grown-ups.
_Young children often prefer uncomplicated tastes. While some may go for elaborate sauces, it’s safest to cook chicken by quickly sauteing it in your frying pan, and then have any of the grown-up’s sauces available for the kids to use as an optional dip.
_Avoid highly seasoned foods for kids unless you know they’re used to them.
_Frequently young children like uniform textures. Casseroles with hard and soft textures would be riskier than, say, a straightforward boned chicken breast.
_Pieces cut from a cooked Cornish hen can be a real treat for a small child. He or she eats the child-size portion, breast or leg, while the grown-ups eat regular size broiler breast or drumsticks.
_My friends in Cooperative Extension tell me that the latest scientific research suggests thinking of a balanced diet in terms of several days rather than just a rigid 24-hour period. That means that if one of the kids in your care goes on a chicken-eating jag or a peanut butter jag or a not-eating jag, don’t worry; it’s ok as long as in the course of several days he or she is
getting a balanced diet. Knowing this can make meal time a lot more relaxed.
Cooking with school age kids can be a lot of fun, as long as it’s presented as a treat instead of a chore. You might, for a start, get them involved in planning the week’s menu. I know some families who allow each child to pick the main dish for one meal a week. Older children actually get to cook their choice. My daughter-in-law, Jan Perdue, suggests getting kids to pick out meals with an ethnic or international theme so that mealtime is a time to explore other cultures as well as a time to eat.
Many of the recipes in this chapter are not only popular with kids, they’re designed to be easy and fun for them to make. When your kids are trying these recipes, how about teaching them some of the food preparation tips that will be useful to them for the rest of their lives?
When I’m cooking with kids, my first concern is food safety. I explain to them that in most cases food-borne illnesses don’t make you violently sick (although they can); the usual episode is more likely to be simple queasiness or a headache or feeling under the weather and not knowing quite why. To avoid these nuisance illnesses as well as the possibility of more serious ones, the number one rule is:
_Wash your hands and all utensils before and after touching any raw meat.
Here are some other food preparation tips that kids should know:
_Before starting to cook, read the recipe carefully and gather all ingredients and equipment.
_Don’t wear loose, floppy clothing or sleeves that are too long. Tie back hair if it gets in the way.
_When using a sharp knife, cut on a cutting board and point the knife away from your body.
_If you’re walking around with a knife, hold it so the blade is pointed toward the floor and away from your body.
_Make sure you know how to light your stove. If a gas burner or oven doesn’t light, turn the knob to “off” and ask an adult for help. Electric burners remain hot even after they’re turned off, so don’t touch!
_When removing lids from cooking pots, point them away from you to prevent steam burns.
_Don’t let pot handles extend over the edge of the stove or counter$a little brother or sister could grab the handle and pull it down on his or her head.
_Never stick anything into an electric mixer or blender while it’s running.
_Don’t let any part of your potholder touch the burner; it could catch fire.
_Clean up as you go along$and don’t forget the cutting board.
_Double check that stove and appliances are turned off before you leave the kitchen. Make a habit of turning off the burner before removing your pan, that way you won’t forget.
_Never be embarrassed to ask for help. That’s how we learn.
Personally, I love having kids in the kitchen. I like the bustle and hubbub, and even though I know, as I’m sure you do too, that we parents could probably do things a lot faster without their “help,” that’s not the point. The point is being together and doing things together and having fun together.
Chicken Recipes – The Perdue Chicken Cookbook
Copyright (C) by Mitzi Perdue – Used with Permission
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