Youth in the kitchen

Recently my daughter had a friend over and as we worked together making various dishes in the kitchen. We talked about our favorite kinds of food to make, and my daughter was quick to rattle off a number of items. But, her friend’s response caught me off guard when she stated she loves her grandma’s meals, but they are “the frozen kind” (for example, TV dinners). It didn’t take long to prepare the burger, salad and asparagus. The consensus — everyone enjoyed the meal.

The next day the friends’ mom told me her daughter wondered why they didn’t make more meals from scratch, because they tasted better and it was fun to do. Our society has become so focused on making everything convenient, easy and quick — including our food.

Making food from scratch is typically healthier, easy, fun, cheaper and educational — and it doesn’t have to take long. Including your child in the food prep process can be rewarding in many ways, including:

  • Spending quality time with your child, as it provides you and your child with one-on-one time that you otherwise may not utilize together.
  • Learning science and math. Learn fractions as you use measurements when doubling or dividing recipes; learn science as you watch the yeast rise.
  • Eating less processed food as you incorporate whole foods, such as whole wheat flour, fruits, vegetables and herbs into your recipes.
  • Watching your child eat healthier meals as they choose more fruits and vegetables — since they made it, they may be mIncorporating food safety as you teach these techniques during your cooking: handwashing, avoiding cross-contamination, proper cutting techniques, cleaning and sanitizing and learning how to cook as a life skill.

You can find many healthy recipes online, as well as through cookbooks. Find great recipes and resources for working with kids in the kitchen through and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Here is a nutritious, colorful and tasty recipe from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

Rainbow Layered Salad


1 pint red grape or cherry tomatoes, quartered

1 cup shredded carrots

1 cup frozen corn kernels

2 Hass avocados, pitted and sliced into thin wedges

1 cup thinly sliced red cabbage

1 cup crushed blue corn chips

Juice of 1 lime

Juice of 1 lemon

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper to taste


In a clear glass serving bowl, layer the tomatoes, carrots, frozen corn, avocados, red cabbage and blue corn chips in order. Let stand at least 15 minutes for corn to fully defrost.

Make salad dressing by whisking together lime juice, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Serve salad with dressing on the side.

Nutrition Information:

Serving size: 1 cup of salad with dressing

Serves: 6

Calories: 285

Total fat: 21 grams

Saturated fat: 3 grams

Cholesterol: 0 milligrams

Sodium: 229 milligrams

Carbohydrates: 27 grams

Fiber: 7 grams

Sugars: 11 grams

Protein: 3 grams

Olive Oil Poached Tuna with Crisp Romaine Salad

Serves: 4

2 romaine hearts, cleaned and leaves separated

4 hard boiled eggs, cut into quarters

25 Haricot Vert/French green beans, blanched

4 Olive Oil

Poached Tuna portions, recipe follows

4 yellow potatoes, peeled

Salt and pepper to taste

20 Kalamata olives, pitted

12 grape or cherry tomatoes, washed

8 lemon quarters

Prep romaine, eggs and green beans, and chill the day before. Poach tuna and let cool to room temperature.

Boil potatoes until tender and drain. Season potatoes with salt and pepper while still hot. Let potatoes cool to room tem-perature, cover with plastic and reserve.

Arrange romaine, eggs, green beans, olives, tomatoes and potatoes on four dinner plates. Break and flake tuna on top and drizzle with olive oil from poaching. Squeeze one lemon wedge on each plate and season with fresh pepper and salt. Serve with another lemon wedge.

Michigan State University Extension provides online resources for working with kids in the kitchen and offers more information through community nutrition classes and Michigan 4-H. Contact your local MSU Extension for more information. Take some time with your child and have them help you with meal planning, shopping and cooking as a way to motivate them in taking charge of their health.