It’s time to pack your knives and … stay home with your kids.
When she’s not judging the world’s best culinary talent on “Top Chef” (premiering its 17th season Thursday on Bravo), Gail Simmons heads up her Brooklyn kitchen — where her two kids are often making a mess. And that’s truer than ever during the coronavirus lockdown.
“We tried to cook together as a family at least a couple of times a week before, but now, obviously, we’re cooking together even more,” Simmons, 43, tells The Post of daughter Dahlia, 6, and son Kole, 22 months. It’s something to do during boring stretches at home, and it’s also sneaky education, she says. “Seeing the preparation and the process of how food comes together through cooking is great family bonding time, and it teaches kids skills like math, science, chemistry, biology and reading.”
Here are her tips for cooking with children.
Start by letting them watch
Plop them nearby and get to work. “When kids see you preparing meals in the kitchen, they’ll want to emulate it,” Simmons says. “In fact, ‘cooking,’ ‘mixing’ and ‘baking’ were some of my son’s first words.”
Treat cooking tools like toys
“The beauty of a kitchen is that kids don’t need toys in there,” Simmons says. “My kids will be on the kitchen floor playing with safe tools like wooden spoons, whisks, small spatulas and plastic containers while I’m cooking on the counter.”
Put them to work!
Simmons says her toddler loves pushing the button on the salad spinner, while her daughter enjoys making “ants on a log” (celery sticks with peanut butter and raisins). Granted, her daughter usually ends up covered in peanut butter — but when her kids help in some way, even if it’s small like washing carrots, it keeps them engaged and interested in the meal to come.
Play with your food
A salad is a canvas for creative kids. Simmons’ daughter Dahlia loves to make colorful ones — with leaves as the “face,” shredded carrots make perfect “hair” and an avocado dollop works for a “nose.”
Try un-screw-uppable standbys
Simmons says she and her daughter bake together often. Dahlia loves throwing anything she can into batter, to mixed effect: Simmons supports the berries in pancakes, but plucks the eggshells out. She suggests sticking to recipes that can take a little improvisation. “I like making bundt cakes and banana bread because you can mess them up,” Simmons says. “Even if the kids get in the way or add in too much of something, it still comes out fine.”
Don’t sweat the mess
Yes, cooking with kids gets messy, Simmons says. Don’t try to fix it — just embrace it. “Throw an apron or smock on them,” she says. “Making a mess and making mistakes is how you learn to cook.”
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