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Calling all junior chefs: Expert tips make cooking an enjoyable family affair

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Posted: Wednesday, July 16, 2014 10:00 pm | Updated: 1:34 am, Sat Jul 26, 2014.

(BPT) - There’s a place in the home that is full of endless fun and family bonding potential: the kitchen. When kids learn to cook – from meal prep to cleanup – they gain valuable skills and make lifelong memories. Fortunately, inspiring kids in the kitchen is simple with a few expert tips.

“Children have a natural interest in food and creativity, so families who cook regularly come across educational moments in the kitchen while spending time together,” says Sandra Lee, multi Emmy award-winning television personality and Food Network host. Lee offers these tips for empowering junior chefs and encouraging family fun time in the kitchen:

Make it a family affair. Before going to the grocery store, brainstorm appetizing recipes with the family so everyone can take part in the planning process. This is a great way to get creative while teaching kids about various ingredients and meal preparation. Plus, when kids have a say in the weekly dinner menu, they are more likely to try new foods!

Strive for easy access. Keep kids motivated by stocking their favorite ingredients in easy-to-access areas around the kitchen. Parents agree that keeping greens and healthy snacks in easily accessible areas of the refrigerator is an important part of teaching your child healthy eating habits. Refrigerators, like LG's door-in-door models, are perfect for keeping frequently used cooking ingredients and healthy snacks within easy reach so kids can retrieve them on their own. Plus its new CustomChill drawer has the flexibility to serve as either extra refrigerator or soft freezer space, depending on the food items stored.

Mix it up: Don’t let meal preparation be a daunting task. Get the kids involved in helping to prepare various ingredients. This is the perfect opportunity to catch up and spend quality time with your children as you fix up delicious treats. Assign chopping and blending steps to older children and save simpler tasks like hand mixing for younger kids.

Taste test, anyone? During the cooking process, taste the food and talk with your kids about any necessary adjustments. This will encourage them to engage their palate and analyze the flavors they taste. It is also a great way to educate children on different flavors and the health benefits of cooking and you’ll learn a lot about their individual preferences.

Go ahead, mess around: The kitchen should be a space where kids can be creative and have fun while learning the culinary ropes. Embrace the chaos that will likely ensue, including messy clothes. A good way to prevent a major mess is to have aprons on hand. Add a fun twist to kitchen time by having kids decorate and personalize plain white aprons so every time you cook in the kitchen together, they can wear their own special apron.

For thought starters on what to create with your kids in the kitchen, consider these ”junior chef”-friendly recipes courtesy of Sandra Lee, which are guaranteed to be as much fun to make as they are to eat:

Fruit Pizza Recipe:

Ingredients:

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup powdered sugar

8 wedge-shaped shortbreads

3 tablespoons peach jam or preserves

Fresh fruit (diced strawberries, diced kiwi, raspberries, diced mandarin oranges, small blueberries, etc.)

Honey

Directions:

1. In a medium bowl, stir together the cream cheese, vanilla extract and powdered sugar. Spread about 1 tablespoon of the cream cheese mixture on each shortbread.

2. Spread a generous teaspoon of peach jam on top of the cream cheese on each shortbread.

3. Arrange fruit in rows on top of shortbreads to look like a rainbow. Drizzle lightly with honey. Serve immediately.

Mix and Match Ice-Cream Sandwich:

Ingredients:

Root Beer Float Ice Cream

1 (18.25-ounce) box white cake mix

1/3 cup vegetable oil

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons root beer extract

3 cups vanilla ice cream, softened

1 cup toffee bits

Garnish: toffee bits

Sugar-Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches

1 (16.5-ounce) package refrigerated sugar cookie dough

51/2 cups vanilla ice cream, softened

1/2 cup rainbow sprinkles

1 tablespoon sparkling sugar

Directions:

Root Beer Float Ice Cream

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, combine cake mix, oil, eggs, and extract. Form dough into 12 to 14 (2-inch) balls. Using hands, flatten balls on a baking sheet. Bake for 12 to 13 minutes, or until edges begin to brown. Remove from pan, and cool completely on wire rack.

3. In a large bowl, combine ice cream and toffee bits. Spoon ice cream evenly on flat side of half of cookies. Top with flat side of remaining half of cookies. Wrap each sandwich in plastic wrap, and freeze until ice cream is firm. Unwrap sandwiches, and roll edges in toffee bits, if desired. Serve immediately.

Sugar-Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll dough into 32 balls (about 11/2 teaspoons dough for each ball). Place balls 2 inches apart on baking sheets. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly browned around edges. Let cool on pans for 1 minute. Remove to wire racks; cool completely (about 30 minutes).

2. Scoop 1/3 cup ice cream onto the bottoms of 16 cookies. Top each with a cookie; gently press until ice cream almost reaches edges of cookies. Smooth edges of sandwiches with a knife, if necessary. Freeze until firm.

3. On a plate, combine sprinkles and sugar; roll edges of sandwiches in sprinkles mixture. Freeze sandwiches for 10 minutes longer before serving.

Sample a few of these sweet ideas:

* Coconut ice cream or sorbet between two waffle cookies. Roll sides in chopped or shredded coconut macaroons. 

* Lemon sorbet between lemon cookies. Roll sides in finely chopped yellow gumdrops.

* Mint chip ice cream between chocolate waffle or wafer cookies rolled. Roll in chopped pistachios.

* Strawberry ice cream between Pepperidge Farm(R) macadamia nut cookies. Roll sides in chopped strawberries.

* Butter pecan ice cream between peanut butter cookies. Roll sides in chopped pecans.

* For a nut-free option crush Oreo’s or chop fruit to roll on the outside of the sandwich.

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