While students everywhere are hitting the books hard this month, a select group of kids will meet challenges in a classroom of a different kind: the professional kitchen. On Masterchef Junior, a spinoff from the creators of FOX’s hit reality TV series Masterchef, aspiring young cooks ranging from ages 8-13 will put their culinary skills to the test, whipping up delicious dishes with feedback from a team of expert coaches, including award- winning chef Gordon Ramsay, restaurateur and winemaker Joe Bastianich and chef Graham Elliot.
Want to instill a love of cooking in your little ones early on? It might be tempting to spark their interest by whipping up sweet treats, but it’s possible to engage kids with a healthy approach, too. Bastianich shared these tips for getting kids interested in cooking and helping them develop healthy habits that will last a lifetime.
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Get the whole family involved. The kitchen should be “the hearth of the home,” Bastianich says, a media-free environment (no phones!) where everyone comes together to talk and share in meal-making. Even the small- est, simplest task, like stirring a pot or pouring liquid from a measuring cup into a saucepan, will make children feel included and capable.
Tailor the task to the child. Not every- one loves to chop carrots. “If you have a child who is high energy, have her use the mixer,
or pound out meat,” says Bastianich. “If she’s detail-oriented, have her carefully layer the lasagna. If he’s creative, ask him to create his own salad using what he finds in the fridge and surprise the family. There could be some inter- esting results!”
Invite the whole gang. No matter what they’re doing, kids love to be with their friends. Bastianich suggests getting your children and their friends together after a sports game or practice for a healthy snack or meal. Each child can be responsible for part of the meal, or they can work as an assembly line. Older children will enjoy the plan- ning involved in this teamwork.
Skip the “h” word. Young people may hear “healthy” and think “boring!” Not so if you emphasize balance—key to good nutrition—and introduce kids to the culture behind a cuisine. Bastianich notes that a traditional Italian plate offers balanced portions of different foods. “In Italy, generally dinner is not an oversized bowl of pasta with cream sauce. It starts with salad, incorporates legumes, and frequently ends with fruit.”
Don’t diss the white stuff. We all want our kids to sup happily on colorful veggies. But white foods—pasta, pizza, cakes, bread—are typically winners with budding chefs. And that’s OK. “In my experience, kids love making pasta,” says Bastianich. “Have them help make fresh pasta dough. Rolling it out and putting it through the pasta maker might be a little tedious for some, so take on this step yourself and have the kids cut the pasta into shapes when you are finished.”
Teach respect for the tools of the trade. Budding cooks should be taught to respect, not fear, sharp knives, hot stove eyes and the like, says Bastianich. Explain how things work, be clear about risks, and above all, use common sense. Turn saucepan handles inward so little hands won’t be tempted to reach, keep sharp ob- jects out of reach, and allow your kids to experiment with them only under close supervision.