Food & Drink

With Mother's Day at hand, it's a good time to turn children into kitchen helpers

At Wild Thyme, a Lexington cooking school that caters to all ages, Carlyn Sharp, 7, left, and Megan Cox learned to make peach smoothies during an   American Girl Derby Day — hence the hat — tea party. Owner Allison Davis says the key to teaching kitchen skills to children is to "keep it fun."
At Wild Thyme, a Lexington cooking school that caters to all ages, Carlyn Sharp, 7, left, and Megan Cox learned to make peach smoothies during an American Girl Derby Day — hence the hat — tea party. Owner Allison Davis says the key to teaching kitchen skills to children is to "keep it fun." Lexington Herald-Leader

It's almost Mother's Day. And sure, you can take mom to a nice restaurant to give her a break from cooking.

No doubt, the outings will be pleasant.

But chances are, the meals most mothers remember are the ones prepared by her children especially for her.

And it really doesn't matter if the meal is over-toasted bread and jelly, a peanut butter sandwiches or chicken piccata. Mom will love it.

But if dads or grandparents can step in and help, youngsters of all ages can cook something special for mom on Sunday.

Allison Davis, chef/owner of Wild Thyme cooking school in Chinoe Village, teaches cooking skills for all ages. Her advice to adults who are helping children in the kitchen: "Keep it fun. Don't fret over perfection ... life should be messy. By allowing the child to play or help in the kitchen without scolding or constant interference, they are more likely to gain self confidence and develop a genuine interest in eating better and trying new foods."

Julie Negrin, a nutritionist and author of Easy Meals to Cook With Kids (AuthorHouse, $39.99) gives tips for how to safely include kids in the kitchen.

The main reason she loves teaching kids how to cook is that it's possible to include every single child, regardless of age, special needs or academic abilities, she said. Since cooking is a tactile activity that you can break down into dozens of tasks, each child can take on easy or challenging ones. Here are Negrin's tips for different age groups.

Ages 2 to 3 and older: Most toddlers enjoy helping in the kitchen and learn new tasks quickly. This age group, however, needs very close adult supervision, a lot of space and large bowls because their dexterity and motor skills are still developing.

This age group (and older) can do the following tasks with minimal help: squeezing lemons or limes using a plastic juicer, washing produce in the sink, drying produce in a salad spinner, picking fresh herb leaves off stems and ripping them into small pieces, tearing lettuce, sprinkling dried herbs and salt, using a pepper grinder, kneading dough, scooping potatoes or yams out of the skins, brushing (or painting) oil with a pastry brush, using the rolling pin for dough or puff pastry, whisking together vinaigrettes, squeezing water out of thawed spinach, stirring and mashing.

Ages 4 to 5 and older: In this age group, there is a lot of variability in motor skills, independence and the ability to focus, which means you will need to decide when they are ready to tackle from the next list.

Ages 6 to 7 and older: This age group usually has developed fine motor skills so they can take on more adult tasks. They still might need reminders to watch their fingers during grating and peeling.

They also excel at: dicing and mincing vegetables; grating cheese; peeling raw potatoes, ginger, mangoes and other fruits and vegetables; slicing and scooping out avocados; greasing pans; using a microplane zester and measuring spoons; deseeding tomatoes and roasted peppers; draining and slicing tofu; rinsing grains and beans; forming evenly sized cookies and patties; pouring liquids into small containers, and garnishing (or "decorating") dishes.

Ages 8 to 9 and older. There is also a wide range of skills in this age group, so you'll need to decide if they are ready to move on or need to continue with the previous tasks. This group can take on more sophisticated tasks such as: using a pizza cutter and can opener, scooping batter into muffin cups, scraping down the (unplugged) electric mixer bowl and food processor bowl, putting away leftovers, pounding chicken, proofing yeast, skewering food and slicing bread.

Ages 10 to 12 and older: This age group can use a chef's knife and start working independently in the kitchen with an adult in the house. Before they can graduate to cooking without close supervision, however, they should be assessed to see how careful they are with heat, sharp tools and food safety.


Here are three recipes from Wild Thyme that kids can prepare for mom.

Raspberry white chocolate muffins

Streusel topping:

2 tablespoons butter, softened

1/4 cup flour

1/4 cup brown sugar


1/2 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg

1/2 cup milk

11/4 cup flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 cup white chocolate chips

1 cup fresh raspberries

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix streusel ingredients and set aside.

For muffins, mix together butter, sugar, egg and milk. Stir in flour and baking powder. Add chocolate chips. Fold in raspberries. Fill muffin pans 2⁄3 full and sprinkle with about half the streusel mix. Bake 10 minutes. Top with remaining streusel Bake 10 more minutes.

Sunshine smoothies

2 cups frozen mango chunks

2 cups frozen peach slices

1 to 1½ cups freshly squeezed orange juice

6 ounces low-fat vanilla yogurt

¼ teaspoon almond extract

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

Combine ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. Serve immediately.

White chocolate dipped strawberries with candied lemon and orange zest

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange peel

1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel

6 ounces high-quality white chocolate (such as Lindt or Perugina), chopped

16 large ripe strawberries

Line baking sheet with foil. Using fingertips, mix sugar and citrus peels in small bowl until sugar is moist. Stir chocolate in small bowl set over saucepan of barely simmering water until melted and smooth. Remove from over water.

Holding strawberry by stem end, dip 2⁄3 of berry into chocolate; shake excess back into bowl. Turn berry dipped end up and sprinkle with citrus sugar. Place on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Repeat. Chill until chocolate sets, about 30 minutes.