“Cooking Tip #2: Get the kids in to the kitchen cooking with you to get them excited about food. Give them small and easy tasks to start.”
-Chef Rock Harper, author of 44 Things Parents Should Know About Healthy Cooking For Kids

If you were like me, I was one of those kids that always wanted to be around his grandmother all day long. It did not matter if she was in the garden, doing laundry or watching soap operas. But my most favorite memories of my grandmother were watching her create magic in the kitchen. Oh man! What a sight to see her dicing, slicing, frying and rolling out plates of tasty vittles with very little effort. And to top it all off she chose me as her sous chef. What an honor it was for me to assist her in this important task of providing food for our always hungry family. Learning how to cook instilled me in a joy and skill that carried over into adulthood.

Cooking seems to go hand-in-hand with children. Nowadays, kids are not interested in plain ole fish sticks, chicken tenders or Spaghetti-Os. Some even have palettes more sophisticated than their parents and even food critics. Parents are always complaining about their kids sitting in front of the television either watching cartoons or playing video games. Now is a good way to get your children involved in something productive; think of it as an edible art project. Get them to put down that Wii controller and pick up a rolling pin. Surprise them with a miniature apron and similar to what you have. By allowing them to assist in the kitchen, they get to see goes into their food as well as develop a sense of self-esteem and responsibility. It allows them to see what appliances are off limits when the parents are not around. Plus it can create quality time that you may never have gotten anytime else. Even the fussiest of eaters will enjoy preparing dinner and have bragging rights. How cool would it be when your little one pulls out his or her bagged lunch and proudly boast to their classmates that they helped to create a tasty meal?

Now that you have their undivided attention, you and your little one(s) are ready to create. Depending on their age group, you are responsible for assigning them specific tasks. For kids younger than eight years old, washing fruits and vegetables, tearing lettuce, constructing a salad, rolling out dough, garnishing food and setting the table are fool-proof ways to make helping out fun. For those kids nine and up, they receive gratification by operating the microwave and oven, using knives, opening cans, using a shredder and grater on cheeses and vegetables, and planning and creating a meal from a recipe.

Remember these important rules when cooking with kids:

Adult supervision is KEY! Never leave knives on the counter, food bubbling in the pot or meat frying in the skillet. Kids are curious and will investigate.

Cleanliness is a MUST! Teach them to wash their hands in hot soapy water if they handle meats, vegetables, cookie dough and spices. Make sure they don’t put fingers in their mouths or on their face.

Immediately return unused perishable foods, like milk, butter or cheese, to the refrigerator after using them.

Use a paper towel instead of cloth. Suppose you wipe your hands on a dish towel after touch raw meat? No good. Toss in the wash immediately so that you or your little one(s) don’t get sick.

If your child is sick, do not allow over open pots of food. If they sneeze make them wipe their nose and wash their hands afterwards.
Now for an easy, cheesy and tasty meal, the folks over at Kraft Foods offer something that even the fussiest eater, child and adult, can enjoy time and time again. Ladies and gentlemen, Cheesy Volcano Meatballs.

Cheesy Volcano Meatballs

1 lb. lean ground beef
6 RITZ Crackers, finely crushed (about 1/4 cup)
1/4 cup KRAFT Grated Parmesan Cheese
3/4 cup spaghetti sauce, divided
12 KRAFT Cheddar Cheese Cubes
4 hot dog buns

Mix meat, cracker crumbs, Parmesan and 1/4 cup spaghetti sauce. Shape into 12 balls, using about 2 Tbsp. meat mixture for each.

Place 2 inches apart, in shallow pan sprayed with cooking spray. Press 1 cheese cube deeply into center of each meatball.

Bake 14 min. or until meatballs are done (160ºF). Meanwhile, microwave remaining sauce in microwaveable bowl on HIGH 30 sec. or until heated through; spoon into buns. Fill with meatballs.

Recipe courtesy of Kraft Foods.

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