by Krista As soon as my children were old enough to help out in any way, I started to involve them in the preparation of our meals. I have fond memories of "helping" my mom in the kitchen as a child, and I hope that this involvement will lead to the same. I also want to pass on my love for cooking to them and in the process, let them see what goes into our meals. The best reason that I have for including them in the meal preparation is that they are more likely to eat the food that we prepare without trying to pick things out if they are part of the preparation.
My little sous-chefs started out with pretty simple tasks, like moving ingredients from the cupboard, or pretending to measure things for me (while they were really just playing with the measuring spoons). They have gotten to the point where they can, while being WELL supervised, hold the mixer/hand blender, add ingredients to or stir a pot on the stove, and roll cookies or fill muffin cups. Most of the cooking that I do these days is with a child on each side of me, standing on a kitchen chair and helping out. They take such pride in this, and truly love the food that they create.
We recently made a quick and simple favourite together, I like to call it our kitchen sink pasta. They like it, because there are lots of their favourite veggies in it, and there is lots for them to do in the preparation. I like it because there are few ingredients that need to be chopped, it's nutritious, and only takes about 20 minutes to make.
1/3 cup pine nuts 3 cups of penne 1 tablespoon olive oil 1/2 cup vegetable broth 2 cloves garlic, minced 1 red or orange pepper, sliced 1 cup corn kernals (fresh or from frozen) 1 cup peas (fresh sliced snow peas or frozen) 3 cups of baby spinach, washed and dried 1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half dried or chopped fresh basil to taste freshly ground pepper to taste freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Advance prep work: In toaster oven, toast the pine nuts for about 4 minutes (until slightly golden). Slice peppers, tomatoes and snowpeas (if using)
With the children: Start the water boiling for the pasta. Once it boils, add the pasta. My children like to help here, but you have to be careful that they aren't too zealous and get splashed by boiling water. I use a ladle to let them tip the pasta into the pot. Cook until al dente. Let the kids test the cooled noodles to tell you if they are done before draining. Set pasta aside, but the veggies should be ready at about the same time.
While the pasta water is starting, have the kids help to measure out the veggies and put all but the spinach, tomatoes and pine nuts in a bowl. In a large frying pan with a lid, heat the oil. Add the broth and garlic. Have one of the children pour the veggies into the pan (or take turns pouring). Sauté them for a couple of minutes, then reduce heat and add the basil and spinach. My children like to do this, they get to throw handfuls of spinach into the pot. Cover and let the spinach start to wilt. Stir occasionally to mix everything together. Once the spinach is fully wilted, have the children add the tomatoes and pine nuts and stir them in. Cover and let sit, on very low heat, for another minute or two. You want the tomatoes to soften, but not be mushy.
Mix veggies together with the penne and serve, topped with the pepper and parmesan. Enjoy!