Have you ever asked your kids “how was your day today” only to be met with them pulling a face or, if you are lucky, a one-word grunt? It’s amazing how quickly their tongues loosen up while doing something creative (and productive) with their hands, so GET your kids into the kitchen with you when you’re doing your Personal Chef Approach™ cooking for the week. It’s a great way to bond, teach your children the cooking skills they’ll need

Tatjana Rhodes and friend Anouska Beckwith

Tatjana and friend Anouska in a non-talkative mood

as adults, while creating fond lifelong memories  - times spent cooking with my Auntie Vera are some of my fondest memories. Plus, who couldn’t use a little “slave labor” to get the cooking done faster? Cooking can also be a great educational tool for math or chemistry. You get to turn a chore into a fun family activity.

My cousins Nancy and Drew dumping ingredients in a bowl together

Dumping ingredients in a bowl together.

I don’t think it is ever too young to teach an interested child how to cook. Even a two year old can hold a measuring spoon with you as you dump ingredients into a mixing bowl – you just have to assign tasks they are ready to tackle.

Assign age appropriate tasks

Assign tasks – DJ greasing the pan

Know that kids will make mistakes and messes, so be mentally prepared for it. I screamed at my three year old daughter for dropping a cup of flour on our clean kitchen floor once, and I’m still carrying around the gulit over it. It’s important that it is a positive experience for them, if you want to foster their expertise and future help, so choose a time you are not in a hurry or stressed, especially with the little ones.

Make shopping a treasure hunt for the best ingredients

Make shopping a treasure hunt for the best ingredients

Since good food starts with good ingredients, you can make shopping for dinner a treasure hunt for the best of everything. Point out how beautiful all the colors of the fruits and vegetables are in the produce section, talk about the seasons, and explain why you chose this firm apple over the mushy one, or the artichoke with tight leaves over the one with the loose discolored ones. If you are not sure how to shop for optimum ingredients, say hello to the store staff and ask them to help – being a parent doesn’t mean you have to know everything, but teaching your kids who and how to ask for help when they need it is a very good practice.

My cousin Nancy baking a chocolate cake with her kids DJ and Drew

My cousin Nancy baking a chocolate cake with her kids DJ and Drew

Obviously, the kitchen can be a dangerous place, so never leave young children unattended. The last thing you want to do is frighten them, but I do think setting ground rules and a serious discussion about being aware of open flames or hot burners, boiling liquids, and sharp knives etc. is important before you start. One investment you might want to consider for younger kids is a set of children’s knives. I have a client whose son proudly produced his set upon my arrival at their house to do a dinner party (he wanted to help me prep – little man after my heart). The knives are made of nylon and serrated, so you have to saw back and forth for them to cut. Knife skills are where culinary schools begin, so why not start there at home too?

Tatjana Rhodes

Tatjana cooking vegetables

Children vary in maturity and coordination, so I’m not comfortable telling you when your child is ready to move from skill to skill level. That is something you will need to observe and evaluate yourself, but encouraging them to cook new things, including vegetables, will most likely help in getting them to expand their culinary horizons. If they made it, they are much more likely to want to eat it. It’s a win-win situation any way you approach it.

PCA™ dinners ready to heat and eat

Personal Chef Approach ™ dinners for a week – ready in a couple hours

Tatjana and I have settled into quite the team, and can rock out a full PCA™ cook date in a mater of a couple hours together – which means we don’t have to think about dinner the rest of the week. We  have more time for movies, art museums, and shopping, because we can just “heat to eat” delicious, healthy meals in minutes when we need them. Purchase premium membership here to print, shop, and cook the PCA™ way, like we do.

Udon Noodles with Tofu & Greens

Udon Noodles with Tofu & Greens

Udon Noodles with Tofu & Greens

I’m so excited Tatjana actually uses her premium membership when I’m not around. In fact she made my new Udon Noodles recipe for her father recently, and he loved it. High in nutrients while full of flavor, it’s is sure to help spruce up your weekly repertoire. Not a tofu fan? Substitute boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into bite size chunks and use chicken stock in place of the vegetable broth, or chunks of sirloin with beef broth.

SERVINGS: 4

INGREDIENTS:

1 12 ounce package Udon noodles, cooked according to package instructions
3 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons peanut oil, divided
2 extra firm tofu, drained and cut into bite size chunks
3 tablespoons cornstarch
Salt and pepper to taste
3 cloves garlic, miced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
10 ounces of mixed baby greens (I used red & green Swiss chard, tat soi, arugala, and spinach)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon honey
1/3 cup vegetable broth
scallions for garnish (optional)
toasted sesame seeds for garnish (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

1). Heat 1 tablespoon of peanut oil in a wok or large saucepan. Dredge the tofu chunks lightly in the cornstarch, season to taste, and brown in the hot oil. Remove to a plate tented with foil it keep warm.

2). Add sesame oil and remaining peanut oil to the hot pan along with the garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes, Stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the greens, tossing to coat with the oil and aromatics, then add the soy sauce mixed with the honey and vegetable broth. Cook tossing gently occasionally, until greens wilt, about 2-3 minutes.

3). Add noodles and tofu to the pan and toss well.

SERVING SUGGESTIONS:

Serve hot with scallions sliced on the diagonal and toasted sesame seeds to garnish.

PS. Leave me a comment below about your childhood memories of cooking with someone you love, and/or what you like to cook with your family now?

PPS. Happy holiday weekend!

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  • April 6, 2012
    9:30 pm

    In our house, only the act of eating warm cookies from the oven beats the fun of scooping cookie dough onto cookie sheets. However, anything that requires a measuring cup entices my 5-year old to don his Star Wars apron and drag his step stool up to the kitchen counter to help. Whenever I expect that he will snub a particular dish or ingredient, I request his help in preparing the meal because I find he’s much more willing to try new things when he helped create it!

    Reply
  • April 7, 2012
    9:54 am

    Helping little ones grow something edible might help get them involved and more likely to eat it. Little cherry tomatoes grown in a pot are fairly easy to manage. Maybe growing some herbs would help to get them interested in seeing the seasonings go into meals. Parsley, basil, are supposed to be relatively easy to grow. I’ll let you know in a few weeks when my plants start to show some signs of life. LOL

    Reply
    • April 8, 2012
      11:40 am

      I think that is a GREAT idea Ruthee – for those that have the garden (and the green thumb which sadly I lack) to do so!

      What child wouldn’t want to eat the carrot, tomato, or zucchini they grew themselves? Plus you’d have organic vegetables for the price of some tender loving care – sounds like a bargain to me.

      Reply
  • April 7, 2012
    1:07 pm

    My favourite memories are cooking with my mother and grandmother. I was part of the process from start to finish… I clearly remember my grandmother handing me 50 cents and a 6 quart basket and sending my cousin and me up the road to a farmer where he packed it FULL of asparagus, gave me a pat on the head and sent us on our way. Husking corn and taking the scraps to the horse in the apple orchard, stirring gravy, mashing potatoes… and of course the dishes.

    With my own two, they could crack eggs by the time they were two. Ava works with her own bits of fondant for cakes and both can frost a few cupcakes. They also bake with their grandmother although it consists of a lot of lectures on why she needs to crack the egg into a dish first, how to get a bit of shell out and insisting on wiping up messes right away. I think they drive her a bit nuts but then so did I LOL

    Reply
    • April 8, 2012
      11:44 am

      Nothing like fresh vegetables and fruit straight from a farm! I hope you cherish those memories forever Rachel. Of course my favorite part would have been feeding the horse apples.

      Grandma is teaching them valuable lessons too, but I’m glad they get the patient teacher in you too.

      Reply
      • April 8, 2012
        5:49 pm

        I always admire people (like grandmothers and mothers ) who measure by eye. My picky-ness won’t allow me to do that so my girls are picking up on that and don’t like it when my mom just tosses things in.

        There were tons of farms around my grandmothers that were in walking distance or a short drive (good way to get the kids out of the house when we would get too loud of rowdy)Fresh eggs, corn, apples, asparagus etc. Totally different taste. Yes, the horse was one of my favourite parts too. She was so gentle and calm. Great memories

  • April 7, 2012
    8:54 am

    In my house they never get to the oven to become warm cookies! I love the Jedi baking visual of him dragging his foot stool over with the Star Wars apron.

    It just seems so obvious to me that between the bright colors (which kids usually like), and being part of choosing the ingredients and helping prepare them – that is the way to get your children eating vegetables.

    Reply
  • April 7, 2012
    11:48 am

    Jessica already loves to help mommy cook. We’re tackling a fruit salad for Easter in a few minutes!

    That noodle recipe looks amazing! Being the unrepentant carnivore I am, though, I’ll probably trade the tofu for chicken!

    Reply
    • April 8, 2012
      11:41 am

      I’m going to make it with chicken next time too, although I do have a growing taste for tofu. It’s all in learning how to add flavor and texture to it.

      Reply
  • April 8, 2012
    10:54 pm

    Bonjour Julie Anne! I’m on holiday in Paris and still faithfully read your blog! My mother’s side of the family is French. One of my earliest memories is walking through the open air markets with my grandfather with his cart selecting the freshest vegetables, cheeses, and fish. I also remember going Into his garden and collecting snails for escargot….

    On a side note, we happened upon a fashion shoot at Versailles, and I thought of you!

    Reply
    • April 9, 2012
      8:21 am

      I absolutely can not believe I am saying this, but your words are making me have deep surges of homesickness for Paris. I haven’t been back since 1993! Enjoy your trip for both of us.

      Reply
  • October 3, 2012
    5:05 pm

    Have you ever considered writing a cookbook for children Julie Anne? Something that goes beyond homemade chicken nuggets and Mac & Cheese? My four year old has recently discovered baba ganoush and mussels but I remember feeling overwhelmed as a new parent trying to come up with creative meal choices.

    Reply
  • October 3, 2012
    5:11 pm

    Interesting idea Karen. No, I never thought about that before, but your right – it could be a fun one to write!

    Reply

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