Kids In The Kitchen

• Cooking is a wonderful way to even the playing field for all campers. Many times campers compete in other activities every day. There are always standout athletes, musicians and artists, but in the kitchen it’s not a competition. Kitchen time means everyone works together, pays attention to the instructor and completes the task. Everyone wins and has a part in the accomplishment. Depending on the task there’s even room for individual artistic expression (like decorating cookies).

For larger camp programs, consider offering more specialized mini classes. Work with your local culinary school to design skills classes that your campers could choose what areas in which they are interested. Such classes are for older children and are easier to plan and teach since the class becomes a training of a specific skill. Three- or four-day programs allow enough time to thoroughly cover all areas.

Day 1: Kitchen equipment and layout, safety (what’s sharp, what’s hot and other rules) and sanitation. Review ingredients and what they are for, proper Measuring, mixing and what tools they will be working with. Walk through the recipe process, which includes reading to understand, planning your project, gathering and preparation, cooking action and the result. This is the most important area to teach because this is a wonderful way for children to learn the basic steps about how to approach any project. Cooking provides immediate feedback on the result of your planning and effort in a tasty way.

Day 2: Prep Day — Organize the ingredients, measure everything needed and put in the order of the recipe. Pre-make or hold for the next day, depending upon the project. Pre-bake cookies and cakes, etc.

Day 3: Finish and serve your creations. This is the fun day. Have the kid chefs serve their creations to the whole camp. If many are involved have different theme areas with kid chefs serving and explaining how they did what they did.

Some mini-class topics include baking breads using easy proof and bake dough that children can enhance with flavors and seasonings, cookies and pastries (making the dough, the science of baking it, handling the hot pans, decorating and making puddings and cakes, if your kitchen space allow for it), soups and salads, sauces and entrees (older kids), side dishes and knife and hand tool skills (cuts and safety).

Everyone likes to eat. When children are invited into a commercial kitchen as active participants and they see how much fun cooking can be, they’re learning lessons about project planning and eating well that will take the mystery out of cooking for their whole lives. This is exactly what the camp experience is all about. Consider adding to or expanding your cooking program. The time you spend is well worth it.

Scott Gilbert is a corporate chef for Nestle Food Services Inc., and lives in Medina, Ohio.

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