Want to cook up some fun with your kids? Consider throwing a cooking-themed party for them and their friends, the latest trend in kids’ entertainment. Kids like to get their hands dirty and feel like an adult in the kitchen, plus cooking offers an opportunity to teach them about nutrition. Making food the focus of your child’s party is quite fitting.

After all, the meal usually is the centerpiece of an occasion. “One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating,” wrote Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti in “My Own Story” (Warner Books).

Yes, and how convenient to make your child’s birthday party, which usually requires jumping through all sorts of hoops from hiring face painters to finding princess-shaped cakes revolve around eating, something you have to get around to doing anyway.

You could pay to have a professional give guests a cooking lesson at an established school that specializes in childrens’ parties, such as Batter Up Kids Cooking School in Austin, Texas. (Founder Barbara Beery, previously an elementary school teacher, includes etiquette lessons for her students.) Or you can throw your own more affordable and perhaps even more fun soiree.

The goal is to make the party memorable. “Food is the most basic element of human life,” says Diana Serbe, founder of In Mama’s Kitchen (www.inmamaskitchen.com), a Web site where visitors can share their favorite family recipes. “We use the term ‘comfort food’ because we carry our favorite foods in our memory.”

Five tips for serving up one delicious, do-it-yourself fiesta for the kiddies:

Get creative. Your imagination is the limit. If you decide to have guests help bake and decorate the birthday cake, you can make the invitations in the shape of you guessed it a birthday cake. If you are going to have the kids make their own cookies, use a ribbon to attach the invitation to a cookie cutter, which can be used at the party. The birthday girl or boy can wear a chef’s hat instead of a traditional party hat. The kids can hang up pictures of their favorite foods for decoration. If you have the kids make their own tacos, you can hang up a piata for whacking after the meal. A travel fork and spoon set or a plate make a good favor.

Set a unique table. You can pick up rolls of brown or white packing paper to use as tablecloths; put crayons around the table and let the kids decorate the tablecloth and then set the table (with paper and plastic dinnerware) while they wait for their food creations to come out of the oven. The inevitably artistic, personalized tablecloth makes a nice keepsake too.

Keep it simple. Choose simple recipes that are fun to eat and not too exotic. Chef and author Lidia Matticchio Bastianich suggests making dough recipes like pizza, bread and gnocchi with kids. On her PBS cooking program, Bastianich prepared the dough herself first and then had her young grandchildren knead and shape it for gnocchi.

For simplicity’s sake, especially if you are having more than five guests, you can prepare the dough for personal pizzas, have the kids work with it and then let them top it with sauce, cheese and other toppings before you put them in the oven.

They’ll be more excited to dig into their own creations.

Another way to get kids involved is baking cupcakes or cookies in advance and letting the kids apply the icing and decorations. You could also throw a tea party and have the kids make finger sandwiches, while you boil the water.

Stay safe. Never leave the kids unsupervised in the kitchen. Be aware of the potential for fire with the stovetop and oven. “Move the grill to the side of the lawn, that big pot to the back of the stove and do the prep work yourself if possible,” suggests Serbe. Also, keep knives and other potentially dangerous utensils out of kids’ reach. In other words, be sure to use good judgment and common sense.

Be prepared. Have the ingredients measured out, the vegetables or meat cut or chopped, and the necessary utensils on the counter before guests arrive. This way, you can avoid scrambling at the last minute and you can enjoy the festivities too.

Buon appetito!


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