When it comes to dinner, children crave attractive, fun, and tasty meals that require their participation.
“They like to take a role in putting it together,” said Patrice Mastrianni, owner of Serendipity Arts Studio in Congress Plaza in Saratoga Springs, which offers cooking classes for children and adults.
Unfortunately, parents’ and children’s packed schedules can make meals rushed.
“A lot of families are busy,” Mastrianni said. “A lot of meals are served on the fly.”
Children, especially picky ones, are more likely to try the food if they helped make it, she said. Many school-age children are drawn to cooking shows on the Food Network and want to experiment in their own kitchens, but may lack knowledge and confidence.
“I watch ‘Chopped’ a lot,” said Sarah Diel, 8, of Wilton, who bakes zucchini muffins and cupcakes at home.
On a recent Friday night at Serendipity Arts Studio, half a dozen local children prepared taco breadsticks, citrus salad and flan, dishes they had never tried before. Under the direction of Mastrianni and retired Ballston Spa teacher Jeannine Toney, the class was all about exploring and learning about food.
The students watched “yeast babies” expand in a bowl of sugar and warm water. They took turns stirring sugar on the stove, and then hot milk, to make custard, and Mastrianni explained how to add the eggs to the heated milk without ending up with scrambled eggs.
“They really like the science part of it,” she said. “They also love things that they’re normally not allowed to do, like play with fire or use a knife or break lots of eggs.”
Several students agreed that separating eggs was intimidating, but they conquered the task nonetheless. “I’ve done it once before,” said Abby Wilson, 9, of Saratoga Springs. “I ended up dropping it on the floor, but I still did it right.”
On her second try in Mastrianni’s class, Abby successfully got the white and yolk in bowls. Some of their exploration involved solving mysteries.
“I know where the sugar went,” Chloe Jasper, 8, of Corinth, said after being served finished flan, which had been topped with caramelized sugar before baking. “It’s in the water around it.”
Mastrianni also pushed the children out of their comfort zone with citrus salad, which featured pears, mandarin oranges and a pomegranate-quince dressing.
“I want them to see salad doesn’t always have to have a cucumber and a carrot in it,” Mastrianni said.
Abby was game for the salad adventure. “I haven’t tried it, but I’d be willing to try it,” she said.
Mastrianni said that children who are picky at home may be less so in a group, thanks to positive peer pressure.
Mia Stanley, 9, of Whitehall, was open-minded about the taco bread-sticks, in which students rolled out pizza dough and stuffed it with ground beef and cheese.
“I like tacos a lot, and bread,” Mia said. Many youngsters are pretty clear on what they like and dislike in a dinner.
Mia admitted she dreads leftovers, even leftovers of her favorite foods.
“We put [the food] in the fridge and it’s colder, and it doesn’t taste the same when we microwave it up,” she explained.
When asked to describe her ideal dinner, 8-year-old Sarah went with a classic: chicken Parmesan served with a salad.
Chloe imagined a German-inspired meal with schnitzel, a breaded meat cutlet, served as a hot sandwich with tomato sauce and cheese, with German potato salad on the side. A good dinner also requires lots of fresh parsley, she said.
“Always add parsley to everything.”
Although palates differ, there’s one ingredient that can be used generously in children’s dinners without worry, said Evan Baird, 9, of Queensbury.
“Every child likes cheese.”