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Written by:  Leigh Ann McDonald Woodruff
Date: December 1, 2005

Kids love cooking. And these days, Triad kids have the option to learn more than how to make "slice and bake" cookies or peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches.

"At the Young Chefs' Academy, we do 'real' cooking," says Nan Lineberry, who with her friend Analisa O'Toole, has brought Young Chefs' Academy to Greensboro and High Point. "We will teach young chefs how to make everything from homemade pasta and lamb with mustard sauce to homemade fudgesicles.

"We want the children to not only learn the basic in kitchen techniques, but to have the opportunity to taste things they have never tried before," Lineberry continues. "Cooking is a lifelong skill that is very often artistic, creative and always full of surprises!"

With this kind of instruction, the kids can take over Christmas dinner this year!

Why Teach Kids to Cook?

Lineberry has a very good reason kids need to know their way around the kitchen — she recalls what happened the weekend after she visited the Young Chefs' Academy headquarters and bought her son Harden, age 4, an "Alien Pizza" kit (the crust turns green, and the sauce is purple.) "My daughter and I had to be gone for the day, so I asked Mary, a 13-year-old, to babysit my son. Harden was so excited about the pizza kit that he asked her to make it with him."

The directions for the pizza said to set the dough aside for an hour to let it rise. "Well, the babysitter didn't know what that meant, so she set the plastic bowl filled with dough in the heated oven. A few minutes later Harden looked at the oven and said, 'Mary, the oven is on fire!'"

Luckily, Lineberry's house did not burn down, and the only casualty was the plastic bowl. "At that moment, I knew that girls and boys needed the cooking skills that Young Chefs' Academy teaches. Mary is coming to our very first Young Chefs class."

Safety and Health

Learning about safety and health issues in the kitchen is important for children so they can be more self-sufficient and helpful around the house, says Tammy Perry, the assistant supervisor at Polo Park Community Recreation Center in Winston-Salem. She teaches cooking classes at the recreation center during the summer and a special class during the holidays.

"The kids learn about keeping the kitchen clean, what a spatula is for, what a dipping spoon is for, the measuring cup, the different sized pots and pans that you cook in," she says. Also they learn, "usage of the stove, temperatures, usage of the microwave and its temperatures. How to put out fires, such as not putting water on a grease fire and knowing that you are supposed to have a fire extinguisher in the home."

The summer cooking classes at Polo Park run as long as two hours, and the children generally start cooking during the second session of classes. During the holiday cooking classes, "we'll make cookies, a pie and a cake," Perry says, "the things they can actually go home and do with adult supervision."

The Young Chefs' Academy also focuses on safety first when teaching children the basics of cooking. Lineberry explains, "We teach children how to properly handle food, how to handle kitchen utensils and safety around appliances."

Some of the topics covered include:

• The first step in food safety is to wash your hands before making or eating.

• Wash fruits and vegetables properly before eating — use just clear, clean water.

• If food is not stored properly, germs grow quickly. Put food back in the refrigerator as soon as you have used it.

• Use a stove only if you have been taught how to by an adult and have their permission.

• Keep towels, potholders, paper towels and plastics (things that can burn) away from the stove.

A Lot More Learning Going On

Children learn a lot in the kitchen, says Molly Curran, owner (with her husband Joe) of Winston-Salem's 1703 Restaurant. Her children often accompany their parents to the restaurant and make "soup." "This is essentially throwing a lot of things in the pot and pouring water over it," Curran explains. "It is usually a very colorful creation, but they have yet to make it onto the menu!"

The importance of good nutrition is a key concept children can learn while spending time in the kitchen. Perry describes taking a class to the grocery store. "We walked the aisles and talked about the foods and which ones were healthy. . . . We talked about calories and sodium, the different portions and the food pyramid. They were really enthusiastic. It was a hands-on thing."

Ultimately, by learning about foods, children will make healthier choices. "In an age of fast and convenience foods, children need to learn that healthy food can taste good!" Lineberry says. " If a child is involved in the preparation, they are more likely to try a new food and enjoy it once it has been cooked."

Working in the kitchen can also reinforce academic ideas. "Measuring can teach children about math," Curran says. "We have made alphabet letters out of pretzel dough and cookie dough."

By reading recipes, children can learn new vocabulary words, as well as practice reading and following directions. And, "Observing what happens during the cooking process can be a science class in itself," Lineberry says. "How do foods react to physical and chemical stimuli?"

Because you can see results fairly quickly, cooking is good for children, whose attention spans are not very long, Curran continues, "Many people do not realize that cooking is an art form, and children need to be exposed to every form of art so that they may be somehow inspired."

It's a Bonding Experience

For a parent, cooking with children is not always an easy task. So it's important to do it when you can relax and actually enjoy the experience — and don't expect perfection.

"If you are going to get upset if your child puts too much pizza sauce on the dough or if the cheese is not distributed evenly, then you should probably find another activity," Curran says.

There are ways to keep chaos to a minimum. "I like to give my kids specific jobs with specific ingredients," Curran explains. "This helps make things fair if you are cooking with more than one child at a time. That way, there is no fighting — or at least minimal fighting."

Parents should not force children to cook if they don't want to, Curran says. "If they don't want to help you this time, there will be other times when they will. You want this to be enjoyable for them and for you — not a chore."

Lineberry says she and O'Toole were inspired by their children to bring Young Chefs' Academy to the Triad. " Our children love to help in the kitchen," she remarks. "Instead of telling them 'not now' we decided to include them in meal preparation. We were amazed at the skills they have developed.

"We heard about Young Chefs' Academy and knew that it was something that was needed to bring to this community."


Get Cookin'!

Here are some fun ways to get cooking with your family during the holidays:

• The Young Chefs' Academy will be offering several Gingerbread House Decorating Events during December. For information, call (336) 272-4321 in Greensboro, or (336) 841-1027 in High Point.

• Polo Park Community Recreation Center in Winston-Salem holds cooking classes during the holidays. For more information, call (336) 659-4309.

• Crayola® Crafty Cooking Kits have two new holiday-themed cooking kits: Teddy Bear Cinna-Bun Surprise, which is bear-shaped sweet rolls, and Trim-a-Tree Cake Party, chocolate tree cakes that are trimmed with edible color gels. The kits cost $4-$5 and are available in the grocery aisles of select grocery stores and online at www.CraftyCookingKits.com.

• "Salad People and More Real Recipes: A New Cookbook for Preschoolers & Up" (Tricycle Press, 2005) is a new cookbook for children as young as 3. The book comes with full set-up instructions for adult "helpers," safety and behavior rules compiled by actual kids and thoughtful observations on what children gain from cooking. Fun recipes such as Tiny Tacos and Polka Dot Rice are kid-friendly and pictorial — "readable" by pre-readers.

• Visit www.kaboose.com and try out the recipes section for a variety of holiday recipes that are kid friendly, too.

• Find out what happens when barnyard animals get a taste for Mexican Food. Read the new book "Chicks and Salsa" ($15.95, Bloomsbury Children's Books) with your child and then try out the recipes for "Hog Wild Nachos," "Quackamole" and "Rooster's Roasted Salsa!"


Sugar Cookies

What says Christmas better than a sugar cookie? "This recipe was my grandmother's that we used to make together," says Molly Curran of 1703 Restaurant in Winston-Salem. "I have made this with my children. It is very simple and makes very tasty cookies that are fun to decorate around the holidays with icings, colored sugars and candies."

Ingredients:

• 1/2 cup butter
• 1 cup sugar
• 1 egg
• 1 Tbsp. heavy cream
• 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
• 1 3/4 cups flour
• 1/4 tsp. salt
•1 tsp. baking powder

Directions:

1. Sift together flour, salt and baking powder. Set aside.

2. Cream butter. Add sugar, egg, cream and vanilla extract.

3. Add flour mixture. Mix thoroughly.

4. Form into a disc and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

5. Flour work surface lightly.

6. Roll to 1/4-inch thick and cut out with cookie cutters.

7. Bake at 375°F. for 5 to 8 minutes, until golden.

8. Allow to cool completely before decorating.
Leigh Ann McDonald Woodruff is a Winston-Salem mother and writer.
Leigh Ann McDonald Woodruff is a Winston-Salem mother and writer.



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