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Engaging kids in cooking has numerous benefits. And it's a good time

Gretchen McKay, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Parenting News

PITTSBURGH — Dustin Gardner has mentored scores of young cooks in the 16 years he's served as executive chef of Casbah, an upscale Mediterranean restaurant in Shadyside. But it's safe to say the budding chef who tugs tightest on his heartstrings is his pint-sized daughter.

Gardner, of White Oak, and his wife, Lindsay — the two met while students at the former Pennsylvania Culinary Institute — have been cooking with 3-year-old Ellie for as long as she's been able to crawl up onto a step stool at the kitchen counter. Which is to say before the youngster even celebrated her first birthday.

He knows what you're thinking: Of course the child of two chefs would have a natural interest in cooking.

"It's what we do as a family," he says, "so we wanted her to be a part of it."

Yet the truth is, you don't have to be a pro to have fun with your kids in the kitchen, says Gardner, and the experts agree. Even something as simple as stirring together a brownie mix or helping mom or dad tear lettuce leaves for salad will give them a sense of accomplishment. It will also lay the foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating, and help create a positive relationship with food.

"Like with anything, when kids are involved, they'll want to do it," Lindsay notes.


You will, however, need to be patient with the process, put your kids in clothes you don't mind getting dirty, and be OK with some (inevitable) messy moments.

While Ellie was helping her mom stir together chocolate chip cookie batter on a recent Monday, for example, more than a little flour ended up on the counter instead of in the mixing bowl, as she filled and leveled off a measuring cup with a bench scraper. The pair also had to carefully fish a few bits of eggshell out of the bowl with their fingertips, because the toddler is still learning — with unbridled excitement — how to successfully crack an egg without getting tiny fragments of shell in the yolks and whites.

"Ooohhh!," Ellie exclaimed with glee as pulled the crushed egg apart with her thumbs.

"Kids have great instincts," says Lindsay, who worked as a pastry chef at Tender Bar + Restaurant, Sonoma Grill and Ceviche before embarking on a career in social media and web design.


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