Come Into My Kitchen

May 23, 2014

Cooking with kids and broadening horizons

Triplets have fun in the Banks family kitchen while learning life skills.

Kate Banks has triple the pleasure and triple the fun cooking with her threesome of 12-year-olds: Allison, Elizabeth and Ian.

Banks likes to mix it up with her children and places a priority on family dinners with her husband, Dave.

Banks says each child enjoys “sous chef” duties, such as chopping vegetables and measuring ingredients. All three are motivated by enjoying the end result.

“It’s fun to learn how to cook so you know how to make stuff on your own,” Ian says.

“I like to experiment with cooking utensils and recipes,” Allison says.

“I think it’s fun to see what you can make,” Elizabeth says. “And, eat it, too!”

Residence: Mission Hills

Occupation: Managing family business

Special cooking interest: Cooking with children

Some children would turn their nose up at the thought of eating succotash for dinner. How are you raising adventurous eaters? Succotash is traditionally a dish of corn and lima beans cooked together. I found this recipe years ago in Gourmet magazine, and it is definitely a keeper. It is a quick and colorful meal that the kids love.

The recipe is so forgiving: I use small heirloom tomatoes and have substituted bacon instead of using prosciutto. When the corn, tomatoes and basil are at the peak of freshness, this dish is so satisfying and a true taste of summer.

Some parents are reluctant to cook with their children because they think it’s too messy or takes too much time. How do you manage it with three underfoot? You have to pass on the message to children that it is fun to make and eat good, wholesome food. You can’t focus on the mess, you have to roll with the fun.

The more children help cook, the more likely they are to try something different. I want my children to make healthy food choices and not be intimidated by fresh fruits and vegetables. Ultimately, I want them each to be self-sufficient in the kitchen. So we think of cooking together as not only special time, but also like an edible science experiment.

There are a lot of life skills children can learn in the kitchen. Yes, aside from the chemistry and science of baking things, children also learn practical skills of reading and math, too. When we pull out a recipe, the children not only read the ingredients, they also have to follow the directions.

Basic skills come into play if we have to double or divide a recipe in half. We work on fractions when they understand what a whole cup, half cup, third cup or fourth cup actually looks like. And, of course, it introduces the concept of time: not only learning the ability to tell time but also the importance of time management and allowing enough time to complete a task.

Did you grow up cooking with your own mother? My mother believed in using recipes and didn’t stray too far from using them. In baking, you can’t take too many liberties, because you can’t mess with the proportions of ingredients and interfere with the chemistry that takes place. But when it comes to cooking, I am self-taught and love to experiment.

Being in the kitchen with my children is precious time. From the moment we wash our hands before we begin cooking, to the time we sit down together to eat whatever we’ve made together — my kitchen is my happy place. I think of it as a personal accomplishment to be able have something at the end of the cooking process that I can share with my family that will feed and nourish them.

Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Email her at to nominate a cook.

Summer Corn Succotash

Makes 4 servings

1 (8-ounce) package cheese tortellini

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1 large garlic clove, finely minced

1/8 pound thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into strips

2 cups corn kernels, freshly cut from 4 cobs or thawed from frozen

2 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/2 cup fresh basil, cut into long, thin strips or chiffonade

Boil water to prepare tortellini according to package directions. Add pasta to pot and cook until al dente.

While pasta is boiling, in a large sauté pan, sauté butter, garlic, prosciutto and corn for about 5 minutes over medium heat on stove top.

In a large serving bowl, gently stir corn mixture and tomatoes together. Season with salt and pepper. Drain al dente tortellini, reserving about 1/4 cup pasta water.

Stir tortellini and reserved pasta water into corn-tomato mixture in serving dish. Gently stir in basil and serve immediately.

Note: Omit prosciutto to create a vegetarian dish. Recipe can be easily doubled.

Per serving: 365 calories (39 percent from fat), 16 grams total fat (9 grams saturated), 80 milligrams cholesterol, 42 grams carbohydrates, 15 grams protein, 746 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.

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