Since You Asked: Kids can cook an entire meal

I want to help my kids — ages 5 and 8 — learn to cook. Do you have any tips on how to get them started?

— Heidi S., Central Point

We applaud your culinary values and think a can-do attitude is the foremost ingredient in home kitchens. Experts say most kids are capable of handling an entire meal — planning, cooking, serving and cleaning up — by the time they are 8 years old.

We turned to the new book "Cook School," by Amanda Grant (Ryland Peters and Small, $19.95), for the tips you're after. The colorful volume includes plenty of advice, plus recipes for cooks ages 3 to 11. Here are some pointers Grant recently shared with the Chicago Tribune:

Hammer home hygiene. "Make sure that children develop a habit of washing their hands, chopping boards and kitchen utensils straight after handling raw meat," Grant says.

Cut with the "claw." When a recipe calls for chopping, teach kids to make their fingers into a "claw" shape, thumb tucked inside fingers. The claw holds the food, and the child holds a small paring knife in the other hand to cut.

Master a white sauce. Flour, butter and milk are all you need to begin, and you can experiment with herbs and spices.

Involve little ones. Younger siblings can get in on the fun and develop kitchen habits early. "They love to count spoons of ingredients into a bowl and mix them together," Grant says. "Also, most children like a bowl of water to play with, so you can just take it a step further and encourage them to wash the vegetables while they play."

Keep it enjoyable. "Above all, the most important thing is to have fun in the kitchen, so cooking with a friend or sibling can also be a good idea," Grant says.

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