Kid Plus Kitchen Equals Good Eater

Hey Mom and Dad! Are you running out of kid-friendly ideas during Week Two of winter break? Don't overlook the value of the kitchen, as both playground and classroom. Guest blogger Shannon Henry, who's got two little girls (ages 5 ½ and 3) of her own, shares her philosophy (and a kid-friendly recipe) on early-and-often countertop interaction.

The way to my kids' stomachs? Let them cook.

(Shannon Henry)

That's what I tell other parents when the how-do-you-get-them-to-eat topic comes up. Although many variables are at play – from irrational fears of new foods to personal taste buds -- I maintain that the way to get kids to eat well is to include them in the fun process of cooking.

Needless to say, this strategy is far from fail-proof; just a few nights ago, while one child was enjoying the unusual chewiness of octopus, the other insisted on a supper of cheddar bunnies, in a certain bowl that happened to be dirty.

But at its purest, cooking is child's play -- mixing, measuring, rolling, breaking eggs and watching nothing turn into something. Artistic kids enjoy creating with texture and color and science-minded kids love the way food reacts and using math skills to put in the right amounts. But perhaps most importantly, cooking gives kids ownership, control and choice in a matter they rarely have input.

Some dishes will be instant hits. Let kids roll out pizza dough and choose their own toppings, cut cookies into beautiful shapes and decorate their creations, or drop favorite fruits into smoothies or pancake batter. Parents stay in charge of the oven and the food processor, of course.

To get kids to become more adventuresome eaters, choose something off the usual path, like my chicken bok choy dumplings (recipe details below). My kids love mixing, and in particular, using a dumpling crimper to create each little yummy package. I encourage my girls to devise their own recipes and call them their "specialties."

Including the kids in the weekly grocery trip and asking them to choose fruits and vegetables can help too. In the summer, the simple act of planting a small garden (try herbs, radishes and carrots and move on to tomatoes, eggplants and peppers) shows your children where food comes from and makes them appreciate it more. I love seeing my kids pluck basil and tomatoes off the plants and pop them in their mouths.

I also love the time spent together -- never enough especially as they get older -- as we talk not only about food likes and dislikes, but details of school, friends, and lives.

Do you have a tried-and-true recipe or kitchen trick that speaks to kids? Share in the comments area.

Shannon Henry runs the Web site Cooking With Friends Club, publishes an e-newsletter and is writing a book about communal cooking with her closest friend from high school, Alison Bermack. She can be reached at

Chicken Bok Choy Dumplings
From the Cooking With Friends Kitchen
Makes 120 dumplings

2 cups chopped baby bok choy
2 pounds ground chicken
1 large egg
1 8-ounce can of water chestnuts, drained, rinsed, and finely chopped
1 bunch of scallions, white and light green part, washed and chopped
4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
One 1-inch piece fresh ginger root, peeled and finely chopped
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 packages circle-shaped dumpling wrappers

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the bok choy and bring back to a boil. Immediately drain in a colander and cool under running water. Squeeze out the excess water and place the bok choy in a large bowl. Mix in the chicken, egg, water chestnuts, scallions, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, and cornstarch.

Place a small glass of water next to your work surface. Lay about a dozen dumpling wrappers on your work surface and place about 1 tablespoon of the chicken mixture in the center of each. Moisten the wrapper edges with water and fold one half over to meet the edge of the other, forming a crescent shape. Pinch the dumpling closed with your fingers to make tight pleats. (Alternatively, use a dumpling crimper, which makes a much easier job of it.)

At this point you can either freeze the dumplings or cook them. If freezing, place uncovered on a parchment paper lined baking sheet in the freezer for 20-30 minutes until they begin to harden. Transfer to a freezer bag and cook frozen.

If cooking immediately, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Place 12 dumplings in the pan in a single layer, cooking until the bottoms are golden brown. Add 1/2 cup of water, cover and cook until the water is absorbed and filling is no longer pink, about 15 minutes (you will need to sacrifice a dumpling to check the filling’s doneness). Repeat with desired amount of dumplings, freezing the rest.

Soy-Ginger Dipping Sauce
This quick and delicious dipping sauce is made with ingredients you already have on hand for the dumplings: Mix 1/4 cup of soy sauce with 1 teaspoon sesame oil and 1 teaspoon of freshly grated ginger root in a small bowl and serve alongside the dumplings.

By Kim ODonnel |  December 30, 2008; 7:00 AM ET Family
Previous: Meatless Monday: Hoppin' John, Hold the Ham Hock | Next: Greatest Hits, Tastiest Bits of 2008


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I make the "Kind-Hearted Cake" recipe that Kim posted to this blog with my kids, 4 and 2. They love to scoop, pour and mix. Being egg-free, they lick the bowl and spoons once the pan goes into the oven. Big hit, here.

The kids have a platform that they stand on to access/watch the counter when meals are being prepared. They love to help, but are unadventurous eaters at the moment.

Posted by: CentreOfNowhere1 | December 30, 2008 8:44 AM

Here's link to that cake, which has me thinking -- maybe this is a good one for New Year's Eve? Thanks for the reminder, CentreofNowhere.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | December 30, 2008 11:55 AM

i have never had any success in getting my picky eater to try anything he didn't want to. his father is a picky eater so he comes by it naturally. i'm not willing to make food a battle ground so i let it go.

i tried the have him help me cook. didn't do any good. i have a garden & altho he watches with interest as things grow he's not interested in trying.

a friend once told me that there are 2 kinds of people in this world; those who believe strange food is edible until proved poisonous & those who believe strange food is poisonous until proved edible.

Posted by: quark2 | December 30, 2008 12:13 PM

My kids are 8 and 5 and have helped me in the kitchen ever since they could stand and hold a spoon. I find that up until 5, you are pretty much at the whim of their taste buds. After 5, you can begin to reason. I explain that most of the time, you have to taste something over and over again before you can know whether you like it or hate it for sure. And this seems to be working with my picky five year old. You have to be flexible. Right now, he doesn't like sour things. If something's meant to be savory, he doesn't want anything sweet around it. He'll change in a year or two, but I have to be patient.

Pasta dough is a great project. We'll be making ravioli tonight.

Posted by: mdreader01 | December 30, 2008 12:16 PM

What could I substitute for the chicken to keep these vegetarian please? Also, is there a make-shift dumpling crimper I could use with something else I might have handy in the kitchen?

Posted by: ORB21 | December 30, 2008 3:16 PM

Hi ORB21, to make a veggie version, just create a filling that appeals to your eaters--bok choy, finely chopped broccoli and crumbled tofu comes to mind. You can use the tines of a fork (do one side, turn over, then the other) to crimp but I love those dumpling crimpers and they're less than $5.

Posted by: ShannonHenryKleiber | December 30, 2008 4:43 PM

As the founder and culinary coach of Kitchen Kid, Los Angeles' premier culinary school for kids, I can't agree with Shannon more. Inviting kids to the kitchen allows them to explore their culinary creativity, introduces them to new foods and textures, and ultimately helps to expand a picky eaters' palate. Thank you Shannon, for reminding readers that cooking creates ownership and reinforces academic, artistic, and social skills!

One of the easiest recipes to get kids (even as young as 3!) excited about cooking is perfect for a cold vacation day. Kids top bowls of comforting broth with their "personalized" mix of veggies and beans. Find my recipe for Me-Oh-My Minestrone at:

Posted by: KitchenKid | December 31, 2008 11:20 AM

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