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From peeling to paring, kids can handle veggies

By Julie Riven
Globe Correspondent / September 14, 2011

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This is the first of four parts offering ways to introduce your children to kitchen tasks.

Invite your kids to cut up the vegetables for their supper and they might just take a shine to broccoli, carrots, and spinach.

There are many tools that make the kitchen a friendly place for children. If you’re worried about the little ones using knives, even paring knives, offer kitchen shears instead. They can cut many vegetables, snip herbs, and do a number of other chores. You probably already have a garlic press, Microplane grater, vegetable peeler, and cutting board. You’ll need a large wok or skillet and you’re ready to cook.

Place a wet cloth or paper towel under a cutting board so it doesn’t slip. Line a large container with a plastic bag and use it for waste. Have a cleanup cloth on hand. Then wrap your young assistants in aprons and hook a kitchen towel to each waistband.

Stir-frying is a good place to begin. There are plenty of manageable tasks - preparing broccoli florets, stemming and seeding bell peppers, separating Napa cabbage leaves. Practically any veggie can be stir-fried as long as it’s cut uniformly so everything in the pan cooks at the same time. To give the dish some heft, add rice noodles, which require soaking rather than cooking.

Consult your kids about what goes into the pan. If broccoli isn’t a favorite, suggest snow peas; bok choy is a good substitute for Napa cabbage. Add bean sprouts just before serving for their crunch, if you like; you can also sprinkle the dish with chopped peanuts.

One way to streamline the meal is to do some of the prep work in advance, then refrigerate the veggies in zipper bags. As children become familiar with the steps in a particular dish, they may initiate the activity on their own.

Play your cards right and one day you’ll walk into the kitchen and find dinner waiting.

Julie Riven can be reached at julieriven@comcast.net.