Parents often ask me what I did to transform my 6 year old daughter into such an adventurous eater. My first answer is that I got lucky. But there are a few things you can do to help get your child interested in eating new and different foods. One of them is to get them to be part of the cooking process. Think about it, what do kids really yearn for from their parents? Time and approval. And by cooking with them, and asking for and valuing their opinion, you are giving them both.

You don’t need to be Betty (or Burt) Crocker yourself to make this happen. Simply trying every couple of weekends when you have the time will likely help. You can start early by asking your child to be your “taster.” Give little tastes and ask “do you think that tastes right or does it need a little something more?” Listen to their answer, nod and do what they suggest (unless, of course, they’re suggesting something that is going to totally mess up the dish – chocolate in a vinaigrette, too much salt, etc.) and mention how it really does taste better with their suggestion. By helping you cook the child gets a sense of ownership over the food. This goes a long way toward making him or her excited to eat it.

Start with the easy stuff. Bake some cookies. Let him stir, let her dump in the chips or pre-measured sugar, and of course (if you are using pasteurized eggs) let him lick the spoon or spatula!

A common and very easy side dish in our house is roasted vegetables. Put some tin foil on a baking sheet, place the bite size vegetables on it, then pour on the olive oil and salt. Kids seem to have a lot of fun getting their hands all messy by being the one who gets to smoosh the vegetables around in the olive oil to make sure they’re all covered. You can buy already cut up broccoli, butternut squash, bags of pre-washed green beans or cleaned mushrooms to make this extra easy on yourself, and it isn’t much harder to cut the cauliflower, fennel, zucchini or carrots. Roast in a hot oven until done (the thicker the vegetable, like a carrot, the longer it will take – maybe 40 minutes at 425). The caveat to all of this, of course, is that you have to be careful that little hands stay away from hot ovens and stoves.

When my daughter was about 5 we decided it was time to learn to make an omelet. (A frittata would work equally well.) We shopped for the ingredients together. We got pre-sliced mushrooms and some shredded cheese, and I chopped a bit of onion. You could easily add spinach, leftover vegetables, ham, salsa, or whatever you think might suit their fancy. If they’re a bit older, have them cook it for you so they can try new ingredients and feel proud when they hear you declaring how delicious it is.

Here’s the recipe for my daughter’s omelet:

Saute chopped onion and mushrooms (about a tablespoon each) in butter in 8 inch pan. Once softened, remove to another bowl. Crack 2 eggs into a bowl with 2 tablespoons milk; add salt and pepper and whisk or beat with fork. Melt more butter in the pan and pour in the egg mixture. Let the omelet sit over the heat until slightly set, then lift on the sides with a spatula and let the runny parts fall under so that they cook too. Once almost set, add back in the mushroom/onion mix down the middle, along with the cheese then fold half the egg mixture over the vegetable and cheese mixture. Remove to plate. There, you’ve got an omelet!

This is just a beginning. If you’re an adventurous chef you could soon have your child wanting to help cook and eat chicken mole or kung pao chicken (PS- We might look at my favorite kung pao recipe in another column).

If you feel like you’d rather try cooking with your child in a class, Southern Season occasionally has classes for children 7 years or older. Summer classes for children 8 and older are available at C’est Si Bon.

(Pachakutik image via flickr)