Last Friday, I arranged with our 5- and 8-year old granddaughters to pick them up and serve as their assistant while they prepared dinner for 7 people: themselves, Dick and I, their parents, and their maternal grandmother. They were extremely excited by the prospect.
I wanted both the perception and the reality to be that they had, as much as possible, prepared the whole meal. I also wanted to choose things that they liked to eat, so that the lessons would really sink in. Finally, I wanted both to feel that they had contributed equally.
The menu: cheeses, sausage, and cherry tomatoes for starters. "Oven fried" chicken, griddle-fried potatoes, salad, and a hearty carrot dish (made by me, in case of disasters). Ice cream for dessert.
There was also a time restriction, since I picked them up after school. In practice, this meant that we started around 4:45 for a meal to be served at 6:30. So I did a bit of advanced preparation in addition to the shopping. When the kids arrived, I had the chicken cut up and soaking in a mixture of buttermilk, salt, and hot sauce. I had pre-steamed the steak fries so that the potatoes were about half cooked (this also seems to help keep them from sticking to the griddle).
Both girls prepared the chicken. The older handled the griddle steak fries. The younger was in charge of the salad. Both set the table and decided on the seating plan.
Each girl got a plate of panko crumbs into which they mixed grated parmesan and parsley to their liking. They each prepared a baking sheet for their chicken (drumsticks for the younger, thighs for the older). They covered their chicken with the crumb mixture, arranged it on the trays, and sprayed the tops lightly with oil to add browning.
I really do not like to let an 8-year old around an open flame. Fortunately, my Junky Viking has a built-in griddle that gets around that. By putting a folded towel on the steel in front of the griddle where it gets hot, I could shield her from all but minor burns (none happened, thank goodness). She had a great time setting the timer for 8-minute intervals and making really wonderful crusty potatoes.
For the younger one, to eliminate the need for knives, I used mesclun in the salad. I gave her a variety of add-ins - peppers, onions, etc., to use at her own discretion (0f course, she used them all). Most importantly, she was able to make the salad dressing on her own, using a mini-processor (Dressing quality was checked usind a finger on the inside cover, to stay away from the blade. She used olive oil, two kinds of vinegars, mustard, salt and freshly ground pepper. With some advice from me, she made an excellent dressing. The only problem was restraining her from mixing it with the salad until we were ready to serve!
By now I had more confidence in the older girl and allowed her to take the chicken from the over and put it on the serving dish. I compensated for the younger one by asking her to remove the remains of the appetizers from the living room (shades of Tom Sawyer).
It was all very good and the girls were really proud of themselves, and rightfully so. The only thing I would have done differently would be to eliminate the carrot dish - everyone (including the cats) was soo busy eating the kids' food that most of the carrots were left over.
We will do it again soon -- as soon as I can think of another menu.