Young children love to help in the kitchen. It really doesn't matter what the task may be, perhaps something as simple as helping to stir the cake mixture, brush a marinade onto some meat or even sprinkle some cheese on a pizza.
Simple tasks are only a step away from more ambitious ventures - something children should be encouraged to help with as they begin to appreciate different flavours of the wide variety of food from around the world.
What they learn in their early years about food preparation and a well-balanced diet will stand them in good stead once they go it on their own. Encouraging them in the kitchen today could well lead to them easily providing themselves with great tasting nutritious meals, even on a tight budget, if they master simple cooking skills early.
Encouraging them to help in the kitchen also introduce them to some of the essential foods that contain all the things their young bodies need to grow, move and be healthy. Missing out on any of these essentials is like trying to build a jigsaw puzzle with a piece missing. They are all needed to build a complete, healthy diet to give themthe energy and nutrition they need each day.
Some of those essentials include bread and grain foods such as breakfast cereal, pasta, rice, cracked wheat and all types of bread, and the full range of fruit and vegetables. Add to that dairy products and don't forget the meat. Always remember good, lean red meat is an essential of a well-balanced healthy diet.
Encourage them to be adventurous. Instead of toast for breakfast encourage them to try English muffins, fruit breads or even crumpets. Then have them explore different types of pasta - there are lots of them - all sorts of shapes and sizes, noodles, spirals or lasagne.
There are lots of helpful charts available that introduce fruits and veges by their colours. These will also encourage the young ones to be more adventurous with their fruit and vegetables each day. Don't forget that 5+ A Day - that really is important. As an example, for orange go for mandarins or carrots, then yellow such as bananas and corn with green honey dew melon or peas.
Encourage them to eat different types of milk foods - fruit yoghurt, a cheese stick and a milk smoothie they will all find delicious - and of course our quality-marked red meats they can have in a huge variety of ways.
Today let's look at something quite simple that the whole family can enjoy yet the young ones will be able to prepare and present without too much effort at all.
THE PERFECT KIDS' PIZZA
For 6 portions
As always when you are working with the children in the kitchen, start with the list of required utensils.
non-stick frying pan
kitchen paper towels
clean chopping board
metric measuring cup
metric measuring spoons
2 baking sheets or a 35cm pizza tray
2 430-450g pre-prepared pizza bases with tomato paste (you will find these in the refrigerated section of your grocery store)
375g lean beef mince
225g can of pineapple pieces
1 medium onion
1 small red capsicum
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1 cup grated tasty cheese
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
1 tsp dried mint
Wash your hands and work bench, collect all your utensils and ingredients.
Arrange your oven racks to fit two pizzas and pre-heat your oven to 220'C.
Brown the mince in a non-stick or lightly oiled frying pan over a high heat, stirring constantly with the wooden spoon. Drain the mince very well on kitchen paper towels and leave to cool slightly.
Open the can of pineapple and drain well through the strainer into the jug. Keep the juice for a drink. Place the pineapple on a piece of paper towel and squeeze out any excess moisture.
Using the sharp knife peel and slice the onion. Wipe the mushrooms with a paper towel and slice thinly.
Cut the top off the capsicum and remove the seeds, then slice into rings or strips.
Grate the cheese, measuring one cup of each (or simply measure pre-grated from the supermarket) and combine the cheeses in a small mixing bowl.
Remove the pizza bases from their packaging and place on baking sheets or pizza trays. Sprinkle with a little of the cheese, now spoon the mince over the top, topping with the onion, mushrooms, capsicum and pineapple. Sprinkle with the mixed herbs and mint flakes then the remaining cheese.
Place the pizzas in the oven and cook for 20 minutes or until the cheese is nice and golden.
Wearing the oven mitt, remove carefully from the oven leaving the pizzas on the trays for 5 minutes before slicing them into wedges. Leaving the pizzas on the tray will allow the cheese to cool slightly and make it much easier for slicing the pizzas.
Once you have sliced the pizzas remove from the tray using the egg slice and serve alongside a crisp salad.
Safety tips for children working in the kitchen
Don't start cooking until you have washed your hands. Run cold water into the sink first. Never start with hot water because it could scold you very badly. Add the hot water to the cold, gradually testing the water in the sink with your hand to make sure it is a comfortable temperature. Use soap to wash your hands then rinse them in cold water. Dry them carefully. Now you are ready to work.
Oven mitts are an important piece of kitchen equipment, essential when you are lifting hot dishes out of the oven or draining vegetables or pasta from boiling water in the saucepan. You can buy mitts of different length to protect your wrists and the lower part of your arms. You can also buy squares of thick fabric called potholders which are useful for wrapping around a hot handle.
An egg slice is a handy tool. It makes it easy to remove food such as hamburgers from the pan without scooping up cooking oil or liquids at the same time. The long holes in the lift allow liquid to drain back into the pan. The food won't break up because it is supported by the flat surface. If you want to turn the food over use the lift and then the kitchen tongs to pop it back in the pan.
An easy way to cut up sprigs of herbs - just snip them as finely as you can with a pair of scissors. This is a much quicker way to do it than bothering with the chopping board and the danger of a sharp knife.
When you need to drain very hot or boiling water from a pan of rice, pasta or vegetables, very carefully tip the contents of the pan into a colander placed in the kitchen sink. Make sure you are wearing oven mitts to protect your hands and wrists from the steam that will rise from the water. The colander is full of small holes and lets the water run off.
Keep your work bench nice and tidy. Push any cords attached to equipment such as water jugs and food processors to the back of the bench. Don't leave any dangling over the edge.
Make sure the handles of cooking pots and pans are not sticking out over the edge of the cooktop. You can easily knock the pan off the cooktop and younger children may reach up and pull the pans and the hot contents down onto themselves.
- The Southland Times