Crumbs and spills aside, cooking with children is a great way to spend quality time and teach important skills like measuring, counting, and following directions. Here are ideas for cooking with children:
- Teach them to wash their hands. Provide a step stool or chair that children can stand on to reach the counter where you are working.
- Choose tasks that are appropriate for their age. Explain clearly, in simple instructions, what you would like them to do and show them. For tips on what children can do, watch How to Include Children in the Kitchen.
- Children can help plan menus and suggest foods they like. They can check the pantry or refrigerator for foods on hand.
- Children can help at the grocery store by looking for certain foods, shapes, and colors. Children can help put groceries away when you get home.
There are benefits when you involve children with meals and snacks!
- Children are more likely to eat foods they have helped plan and prepare.
- Children develop fine motor skills, self-confidence, and independence.
- Working with your children in the kitchen provides quality time together. You can teach them why nutritious foods are important.
- Food preparation is a great way to help them use their senses—look, touch, taste, smell, and listen.
Try child-friendly recipes such as Crunchy Apple Roll-up, Scrambled Egg Muffin, Fruit Pizza, and Pizza on a Potato.
Flip to your favorite cooking show and you may observe the chef licking their fingers or even cutting vegetables on the same surface as raw meat. Cooking shows are fun to watch—but do they demonstrate safe food handling practices? A recent study from the University of Massachusetts–Amherst suggests there is room for improvement.
The study involved a panel of state regulators and food practitioners completing a 19-question survey that measured safe food practices, use of utensils and gloves, protection from contamination, and time and temperature control. The panel completed the survey while watching ten popular cooking shows. Lead author Dr. Nancy L. Cohen stated, “The majority of practices rated were out of compliance or conformance with recommendations in at least 70% of episodes, and food safety practices were mentioned in only three episodes.”
A number of safe food handling behaviors were not being done by TV chefs, which could lead to a foodborne illness and make someone sick. Areas for improvement include wearing clean clothing, using a hair restraint, handling raw food safely, and washing hands. Additionally, fruits and vegetables are the leading sources of foodborne illness in the United States, yet less than 10% of the shows demonstrated proper washing of produce. Don’t be a “TV chef” at home; always make sure you’re following safe food handling practices. For food safety tips, visit www.extension.iastate.edu/foodsafety.
Thaw safely. Completely thaw meat, poultry, and seafood before grilling so it cooks evenly. Use the refrigerator for slow, safe thawing or thaw sealed packages in cold water.
Marinate food in the refrigerator. If you use a marinade to enhance flavor, marinate the food in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Do not reuse marinade on cooked meat that was used on raw meat. If you want to add more marinade after the meat is cooked, make up a fresh batch.
Cook to the correct temperature. Grilling browns the outside of meat, poultry, and seafood quickly, so you can’t rely on color as an indication of doneness. Always use a food thermometer to ensure that the food is cooked to the safe minimum internal temperature.
Keep hot food hot. Keep cooked meats hot by setting them to the side of the grill rack, not directly over the coals where they could overcook. At home, the cooked meat can be kept hot in an oven set at approximately 200°F, in a slow cooker (135°F or higher), or on a warming tray.
Use a different plate for serving cooked meat. When taking food off the grill, don’t put cooked food on the same platter that held raw meat, poultry, and seafood. Any harmful bacteria in the raw meat juices could contaminate safely cooked food.