There's a reason that the old adage "if you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen" is so popular - cooking is a great metaphor for life. And, when it comes to teaching kids both practical and philosophical life skills, the kitchen is a wonderful classroom.
Experts agree that getting children involved with cooking has many benefits - from getting them to try new foods and learning about nutrition, to providing bonding time with other family members. In addition to giving kids a sense of accomplishment, children who cook learn a useful life skill - how to prepare meals for themselves, family members and friends, and perhaps members of their very own household later in life.
WebMD notes that many children begin to express an interest in food preparation as early as the age of 2 or 3 years, and it is possible to get them started at that age at the right pace and with close supervision. No matter what age you begin introducing your child to culinary skills, keep in mind it's best to start simple and with foods that are already familiar to them.
Sandwiches are a good first-timer dish that kids can learn to create in the kitchen because they'll likely grasp the basics quickly - two slices of bread or a bun and some nourishing ingredients in between. Sandwiches in particular offer kids the opportunity to get creative. Parents should encourage them to explore new types of breads and buns, including whole- or multi-grain varieties. They should also introduce youngsters to unique types of fillings, and encourage them to discover new ways to prepare foods they already enjoy.
Since burgers are so popular with both adults and kids alike, introducing younger cooks to different types of innovative or "gourmet" burgers, like those that include chicken, salmon or vegetarian proteins, creative toppings and inventive ways to prepare them, can also spark kids' creative juices. For 10-year-old Emma Potts of Bonney Lake, Wash., creating a new burger was not only a fun way to spend time with her mother; it was a great way to help other children as well.
Emma won the 2009 Kids' Cook-Off, sponsored by Red Robin, a restaurant chain that serves gourmet burgers. Her Spicy Honey Glazed Bacon Burger took top honors and will be served in Red Robin restaurants from Aug. 3 to Sept. 12. A portion of the proceeds from her burger's sales will support child safety initiatives from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC).
This year, kids are encouraged to again get creative in the kitchen with their family. The fifth annual Kids' Cook-Off is accepting entries from Tuesday, Aug. 3 to Sunday, Sept. 12. Children ages 6 to 12 can submit their gourmet burger recipe and a statement about why their gourmet burger deserves to be served at Red Robin and how they came up with it online at www.redrobin.com, or by mail at Red Robin Kids' Cook-Off Contest, P.O. Box 133, Trenton, IL 62293. Fifty recipes will be included in a cookbook, and the grand prize-winning burger will be sold at Red Robin restaurants in 2011 to benefit NCMEC. For additional details on the prizes and competition, visit www.redrobin.com.
"We always encouraged Emma to participate in making family meals from an early age," says Emma's mother, Donna Beck. "It's helped her develop confidence in the kitchen and a better understanding of how to eat well. Winning the Red Robin competition really gave her a sense of accomplishment - and she felt great that something she created will help other children."
To inspire budding cooks to get creative in the kitchen, parents can help their children prepare Emma's winning gourmet burger recipe at home while also thinking about their own burger creation:
Spicy Honey Glazed Bacon Burger
Sesame seed bun
Juicy beef patty
Green leaf lettuce
2 slices Havarti cheese
2 slices ripe red tomato
3 strips Applewood smoked bacon
Red Robin seasoning (available for purchase at all Red Robin restaurants)
4 ounces honey
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
6 ounces mayonnaise
Prepare a honey glaze by mixing together the honey and cayenne pepper. Separate the mixture in half into two bowls. Glaze burgers with one half. Mix the mayonnaise into the remaining half and set aside.
Cook the burger to taste. Toast the bun until golden brown. Spread a thin layer of the honey cayenne mayonnaise mixture on the top and bottom of the bun. Sprinkle Red Robin seasoning on the cooked burger patty and drizzle some honey glaze on top. Cover the patty with Havarti cheese and melt it on top.
On the bottom bun, layer the lettuce, seasoned beef patty, tomato and bacon. Cover with the top bun and serve with fries.