Vegetables for the Kids

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Is this a familiar scene in your home? You walk into the kitchen, open your refrigerator, and turn around just in time to see one of your children standing behind you? As though prompted by some unwritten law of nature, kids know to call upon Mom or Dad just when dinner preparations are about to begin. Before you turn them away consider this: Cooking is actually a pleasant chore for the entire family. The simple act of preparing a meal with your children can foster natural conversation and interactions with your children. Besides, most children like cooking because of its reward — something tasty to eat. Just like learning to tie shoelaces, learning to cook is an invaluable life skill. Remember, children don’t stay young forever; one day they’ll need to prepare meals for themselves.

It’s best to help your children learn to cook by choosing dishes that don’t demand precise measuring or complex cooking instructions. Soup is a natural introduction: Washing vegetables, sprinkling seasonings and stirring the soup are suitable tasks for kids. If your summer vegetable garden is producing a crop of edibles waiting to be picked, well that’s another excellent chore for children. Before beginning, however, it’s best to know your child’s abilities in the kitchen prior to assigning tasks. Children ages 4 to 5 can comfortably handle some kitchen utensils and perform simple preparation tasks. Monitor your child in the kitchen, and don’t discourage him or her from trying something new. No matter what your child’s abilities may be, never allow him or her in the kitchen without your supervision.

As you work together in the kitchen, you may feel like you should be the schoolteacher –carefully following instructions and accurately measuring every ingredient. Don’t make cooking into a school subject for your child. Children get the most out of a cooking lesson when they’re allowed to feel the smoothness of the pizza dough beneath their fingertips, toss vegetables and lettuce together to make salad, and notice when sauteed onions are too brown or bread is left too long in the toaster. Children like to experience every aspect of the cooking process — sights, sounds, flavors and aromas.

Below are two easy recipes that you can make together with your children. Both are great and easy to prepare this time of year, since they use summer vegetables. Why not let your child help you with dinner tonight? You’ll not only be giving your child a healthy meal, but you’ll also be giving him or her cooking skills to last a lifetime.

Vegetable Soup with Orzo


You may freeze any leftover soup in a covered container for up to 2 months. Or, you can halve this recipe to make a smaller batch.

  • 2 large onions, cut into chunks
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 or 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound carrots (about 7 or 8) peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 large butternut squash (about 1 1/4 lbs.) peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks
  • 2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 6 cups homemade or canned low-sodium chicken stock
  • 3 to 4 ounces green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 3 or 4 medium zucchini, cut lengthwise into quarters and sliced into 1/4-inch cubes
  • 2 cups orzo pasta
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Preparation Tasks:

Ages 5 and Up with Adult Supervision

Pull seeds out of squash; pour stock into soup; add chopped ingredients to pot; sprinkle salt and pepper; remove parsley leaves from stems; sprinkle parsley

Ages 8 and Up with Adult Supervision

Add chopped ingredients to pot; stir soup while cooking


Any cutting and chopping with a knife; handling hot cookware and soup

Making the Soup

Let kids add the onions and oil into a heavy, 6-quart stockpot. An adult should saute the onions until soft. An adult should also add the garlic and carrots to the hot oil and allow the ingredients to cook for 5 minutes.

The following can be done by an 8-year-old with adult supervision: Add the potatoes and stock, 1 cup at a time, to the pot and simmer until the potatoes are almost tender. Add the green beans and zucchini and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the orzo and continue cooking until the orzo is al dente.

Kids ages 5 and up can season the soup with salt and pepper. An adult should ladle the hot soup into the serving bowls. Kids ages 5 and up can garnish each bowl with a sprinkling of parsley.

Serve piping hot.

Ranch Sour Cream Dip


This dip can be made entirely by kids; served with vegetables cut-up by an adult, it’s a terrific way to get your children to eat their vegetables.

  • 4 cups regular or light dairy sour cream
  • 1 0.4-ounce envelope Ranch dry salad-dressing mix
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a medium bowl stir together the sour cream, Ranch salad-dressing mix, and salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate until ready to use.


Substitute 1 pint good-quality whole-milk plain yogurt for 1 pint of the sour cream. One to 2 tablespoons of mustard can be added if desired.


This dip pairs well with cut-up carrots, celery sticks, green pepper strips, halved cherry tomatoes and sliced cucumbers.

Spaghetti Squash

One look at a spaghetti squash and your child may back away from this unfamiliar object. Here’s how to turn this late-summer vegetable into two child-friendly dishes:

To cook a 2 1/2 to 3-pound spaghetti squash, halve the squash lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Place the halves, cut side down, on a baking sheet. Bake in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 30 to 40 minutes or until tender. Cool slightly before using.


While the squash cools, in a large skillet heat 4 tablespoons of butter or margarine until melted. Using a fork, remove the stringy pulp from the squash; discard. Cut the flesh into cubes and add to the skillet. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon and 2 tablespoons maple syrup; cook and stir until heated through.

MOCK Spaghetti

While the squash cools, in a saucepan heat 1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes. Using a fork, remove the stringy pulp from the squash; discard. Cut the flesh into thin strips and arrange on a serving platter. Top with the crushed tomatoes. Sprinkle with finely grated Parmesan cheese.

Healthy Snacking for Kids

When your children come running into the kitchen looking for a snack, they want something they can just grab and eat. That’s why it’s a good idea to have fresh vegetables already cut-up in your refrigerator.

Of course, it can be difficult to remind yourself to constantly replenish the supply. A simple solution: Just cut up that extra half of sweet pepper or leftover part of zucchini or cucumber whenever you’re chopping the vegetables for a salad or for another dish. With bite-size vegetable pieces on hand (and a container of delicious accompanying dip), your children won’t have to raid the pantry at snack time.

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