Introducing your youngest chefs to the joys of cooking

Produced, styled & written by Kara Mickelson, Photographed by Nicole Leone

Unlike today’s grab-and-go society, local South Bay mom Jenny Hinyub grew up in a home where everything was made from scratch. Her mom and grandmother cooked and baked every day and involved the kids in everything, including cleanup.

She has heartwarming childhood memories of large gardens and home-cooked meals. The holidays were a very special time and revolved mostly around food. Jenny reminisces about how food brought the family together.

Making candy at home is one of her favorite memories, and she has carried on the cooking tradition with her own kids: Juliana, age 8, and Spencer, age 6. The personal connection and bonds formed through these family activities inspired Jenny to share them with her children. “It brings us all together on such a personal level,” she shares. “We love to create. It’s very rewarding and tangible.”

What do her kids love making the most? “We made ‘glass candy’ this year, and the kids were mesmerized,” she says. “We started with a few simple ingredients, watched the candy thermometer, and we ended up with a sweet treat. The kids were also involved with my six- month project attempting to make butterscotch budino. Eventually we mastered it, and now it is a favorite!”

So what’s the recipe for success when cooking with kids? It depends on your perception and willingness to take it all in stride. There have been times that she envisioned spending hours in the kitchen together, and then the kids—being kids—were not focused on it. ”That’s frustrating for me, but they are kids!” she says. “The stars have to be in alignment for it to go smoothly.”

Here are some helpful tips for getting started:

Short & Sweet
Think bursts of creativity. Stay away from preconceived ideas on how the end product should look. Focus on play and offer options to keep your kids engaged. Let them sample new flavor combinations, lick the icing or whipped cream from the whisk and taste along the way.

Compromise
Whether it’s crafting cookies, making vegetable bugs or setting the table, there are endless options to personalize the look and practice compromise. Colorful crafty accents and over-the-top edible decorations may not jive with your sophisticated home decor or personal style, yet the free-spirit playful process is sure to create a special place in your child’s heart.

Skills & Setup
There are always age-appropriate tasks that can be divvied up among the kids. It could be stirring the brownie mix, creating place cards and drink tags, or adding sprinkles to cookies that have been baked. As your kids’ skills develop, you can give them more responsibility. Maybe let them crack the eggs, squeeze the cookies from the cookie press, add M&M’s to a melted pretzel/Hershey’s Kisses cookie or frost a cake.

Pass on Perfectionism
Jenny encourages parents to let go of perfectionism and let their kids feel like they are doing it alone. “Allowing them to take over and not trying to do it for them (which is very hard for me) is when they have the most fun! It doesn’t always turn out perfectly, but that’s OK,” she says.

Be Realistic & Flexible
Most kids have short attention spans. You may spend hours prepar- ing for a day of baking, decorating and planning the perfect touches to the holiday meal and realize your kid’s focus diminishes after a few minutes.Create shortcuts by buying pre-made sugar cookies or cupcakes to decorate and use store-bought mixes to save time. Packaged, pre- made cinnamon rolls and cookies can be formed to create bunnies, decorative eggs and chicks for Easter. Use cookie cutters to cut bread and make mini-bunny Monte Cristo sandwiches, grilled cheese, finger sandwiches or “toast points” for cheese, dips or spreads. If baking from scratch, encourage kids to help in various stages of the recipe versus expecting them to make something from start to finish.

Keep it Simple
Let the creativity  flow and put the emphasis on decorating. Colorful decorating options for creating a special “one-of-a-kind” look will keep kids more engaged. Add new activities each year, such as decorating the table, folding napkins, and hand-writing or stamping name cards, in addition to any culinary activities. As their skills increase, add more tasks to keep them engaged.

Cleanup
Break out the disposables to minimize cleanup. Keep the focus on cooking, decorating and fun. Place goodies in trays and use cutting boards as “workstations,” so leftover product is easily swept into the sink or trash at the end of the activity. If the project is messy, buy an inexpensive art tarp or drop cloth to cover carpet or the floor and help with cleanup. If your kids are older, have them help with washing and putting dishes away.Remember it is not so much about the end product, ingredients or your favorite family recipe … it’s about spending time together and creating those personal connections that last beyond a generation.

Cinnamon Roll Chicks & Easter Eggs

Makes 5 (depemds on brand)
 1 package large cinnamon rolls with vanilla icing
(found in the refrigerator section)
toothpicks
1 jar store-bought cream cheese frosting or 1 cup homemade food coloring (yellow, orange, assorted)
pretzels or Pocky sticks (found at an Asian market)
small raisins or currants
sliced almonds or assorted nuts
assorted berries
small pieces of dried fruit
orange slices or jellied orange wedges
Remove cinnamon rolls from package.

For chicks (2 to 3 cinnamon rolls): Cut a small end piece of the cinnamon dough strip to create two triangle shapes for the chick wings. Shape each cinnamon roll into a ‘‘chick’’ (pointy top and wider mid and bottom section) and add the two ‘‘wings’’ with a small amount of water to the sides. Secure wings with toothpicks.

For Easter eggs (2 to 3 cinnamon rolls): Shape each cinnamon roll into an egg. Secure end of the dough with water, and fasten with a toothpick.

Place shaped rolls on a parchment-lined sheet tray.

Freeze until set. Bake from frozen, according to package directions, until firm and golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove and frost with packaged vanilla icing.

Cool. Carefully remove toothpicks and add colored decorative cream cheese frosting, fruits and nuts. Use the pretzels or Pocky sticks to make chick legs and add a jellied fruit wedge or orange slice for the feet.