Friday, December 4, 2009

Cooking with kids: A delicious way to learn

It’s usually easier to get dinner ready yourself than it is to let your kids help, but if you constantly shoo them out of the kitchen you’re missing a valuable opportunity or two. For one thing, now that our oldest kids are teens I can say for certain that the window when kids think chores are fun and beg you to let them help is very, very small. For another, there are tons of opportunities to teach kids about cooperation, cause-and-effect, and even math while cooking a meal.

If cooking is a science, then baking is like chemistry: it requires precise measurements and certain ingredients in order for your experiment to be a success. Measuring ingredients helps kids understand fractions, rolling and cutting out cookies is great for hand-eye coordination, and your kids can identify shapes as they decorate. Bonus: You can eat your results.

Tomorrow (Dec. 4) is National Cookie Day, and while it's super easy to buy cookies, it's much more fun to bake them with your kids.

Consider how many kids you'll be baking with, how much space you have in your kitchen, and what you want your kids to get out of the process. Are your older kids working on fractions? Let them measure out the flour and sugar. Is your toddler learning about shapes? Spread a selection of cookie cutters out on the counter, but put the dough together yourself. Baking with budding artists? Make icing in advance, and let them customize the colors and decorate the cookies themselves (another great use for leftover Halloween candy!).

Baking expert Rachel Matheus of Mrs. Fields says you should be prepared -- you’ll inevitably have a mess. To make cleaning up easier, she suggests using a tarp or even some plastic garbage bags as a floor covering and use a disposable plastic tablecloth on the table, so when the fun is done you can simply gather up the plastic and throw all of the mess away.

Ready to get started? Here's an easy sugar cookie recipe from Mrs. Fields to try:

Sugar Cookies

Cream together:
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 Tablespoon vanilla

Mix together:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder

Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture alternately with 1/2 cup of milk. (It the dough feels sticky, refrigerate it for 20 minutes). On a floured surface, roll out the dough to about a half-inch thick and cut into shapes. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes -- cookies will be a light golden color. Frost with your favorite icing and decorate with toppings.
If rolling and cutting aren't for you, try the kid-friendly peanut butter and jelly pan cookies, also from Mrs. Fields. (If you're worried about nut allergies, you can use sunflower seed butter instead -- Trader Joe's has a great one, or you can order SunButter online.

Peanut Butter Jelly Squares

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup salted butter
1 large egg
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup of your favorite jam or jelly
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter (or sunflower seed butter)
2 Tablespoons powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Lightly butter a 9x13 baking pan.

In a medium bowl combine the baking powder and flour

In a medium bowl combine butter and sugar to form a grainy paste with a hand mixer on medium speed. Add the egg and vanilla and mix until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Add the flour mixture and blend at low speed until thoroughly combined. The dough will be firm. Divide the dough in half and form two circles. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap, refrigerate 1 hour.

On a floured surface, roll out each disk to a 9x13 rectangle. Place one piece on the bottom of the pan, and refrigerate 10 minutes more. Spread the peanut butter on top, and then the jelly. Place the other piece on top and pinch down the edges all around the inside of the pan. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until golden brown and firm at the center. Cool in the pan, then cut into squares and serve.
If you don't have time to make a mess in the kitchen, you can still celebrate National Cookie Day and get a little learning in using pre-made cookie dough. Scooping out spoonfuls (or breaking off the pre-formed pieces) offers some counting practice, and any time spent being creative together is a wonderful chance to make memories with your child.

Do your kids like to help out in the kitchen? What's your favorite thing to cook with your kids?

1 comment:

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Barbara Beery