“Mom, you make the greatest cookies in the world!” my 9-year-old daughter exclaimed with a dazzling smile.
I was flattered by her extreme compliment, but I knew she had ulterior motives. I was packing cookies into containers at the time. She was waiting for samples.
During the holidays, people tend to pull out their containers of flour, sugar and spices, measuring cups and bowls to sweeten the holidays. Special holiday recipes get used, and children often are eager to help.
Baking and cooking offer opportunities for children to learn to measure and see how math, especially fractions, plays a role in everyday life.
They can learn about science when they see that ingredients have unique functions, such as yeast resulting in carbon dioxide production in bread recipes.
As they watch you read recipes and gather ingredients and equipment, they learn about planning and organizing.
As children grow and mature, they become capable of doing different tasks in the kitchen. For example, most 2-year-olds can transfer measured ingredients, such as cups of flour, into a bowl. Most 3-year-olds can help knead or shape dough.
Four-year-olds can roll round shapes from dough pieces. By the time children reach ages 5 or 6, most can help measure ingredients. By early elementary school age, most children are ready to read basic recipes and learn about using basic equipment in the kitchen. They also can learn about nutrition labels on food products.
Safety is critical when children are in the kitchen, whether they are helping or simply observing. Try this short quiz to see if you are keeping yourself and any young visitors stay safe in your kitchen.
1. From a food safety/sanitation standpoint, name at least three things you should do to prepare yourself for preparing food.
2. How should the handles of pans be directed on a stove?
3. What should you do if confronted with a grease fire in a frying pan?
4. Before plugging in an appliance, what should you do first?
5. Before you preheat an oven, what should you do?
6. Why should you only use dry hot pads when removing pans from the oven?
Here are the answers to the short quiz.
1. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap, lathering for at least 20 seconds. Start with clean surfaces and equipment. If you have long hair, tie it back. Wear appropriate clothing, such as short-sleeved shirts. Long, wide sleeves can catch on fire.
2. Direct the handles of pans toward the center or back of the stove to avoid the risk of bumping them and spilling hot food.
3. Turn off the stove and smother a fire by placing a cover on the pan. Do not put water on a grease fire because this may spread the fire. Be sure to have a working fire extinguisher in your kitchen. You may need to call 911 if the fire is beyond your control.
4. Always check that the appliances are turned off before you plug them in.
5. Check that the oven racks are in the right position before you preheat the oven. This way you can avoid burning yourself or others when moving the racks to the correct position.
6. If you use moist or wet hot pads, you risk steam burns. Only use dry hot pads.
Here is a kid-friendly recipe courtesy of the Home Baking Association’s website at www.homebaking.org . You can learn more about nutrition by visiting http://www.ndsu.edu/eatsmart  or the Prairie Fare blog at http://www.prairiefare.areavoices.com .
1/2 c. warm water (100 to 110 degrees)
1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
1 c. warm nonfat milk (100 to 110 degrees)
2 Tbsp. canola or sunflower oil
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
4 to 4 1/2 c. all-purpose flour (can substitute half whole-wheat flour)
1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 Tbsp. water
Poppy or sesame seeds
Place warm water in large, warm bowl. Sprinkle in yeast and stir until dissolved. Add milk, oil, sugar, salt and 1 1/2 cups flour; blend well.
Mix in additional flour to make soft dough. Knead on lightly floured surface until smooth and elastic, about five minutes. Place dough in greased bowl, turning the dough to grease top. Cover and let it rise until double in size, about 30 minutes. Punch dough down and divide into 24 pieces. Roll each piece into a 16-inch rope. To make pretzels, curve ends of each rope to make circle; cross ends at top. Twist ends once and lay down over bottom of circle. Place pretzels on greased baking sheets. Cover; let rest in warm, draft-free place for five to 10 minutes until risen slightly. Preheat oven to 350 F. Brush pretzels with beaten egg mixture and sprinkle with selected topping. Bake at 350 F for 35 minutes or until golden. Cool on wire rack.
Makes 24 pretzels. When made with half whole-wheat flour, each pretzel has 90 calories, 1.5 grams (g) of fat, 17 g of carbohydrate, 1 g of fiber and 150 milligrams of sodium.
Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.