Laugh, learn and lunch: Tips for bonding with kids over cooking

Sweet and spicy chicken Kebabs with grilled pineapple rice

Cooking with your kids is just plain fun. Everyone likes good food, and being in the kitchen offers an excellent opportunity to work together toward one common (and hopefully delicious) goal. And the added benefit, of course, is that your kids can learn to follow directions, are exposed to healthier food choices, brush up on their math skills, find creativity and gain a solid sense of accomplishment.

“Getting kids into the kitchen to cook with you is a win-win situation, no matter how old they are and no matter what you make,” Tracey Seaman, author of "Real Food for Healthy Kids," recently advised on food site Epicurious.com. “You will have the opportunity to foster a greater sense of intimacy between you and your child. Cooking together strengthens feelings of responsibility and being a valued member of the team will form a lifetime of good memories and help to strengthen bonds.”

Consider these suggestions as you get ready to cook up a storm with your child.

* Expect messiness. As young kids brush up on motor skills while measuring and mixing, spills, stains and a little waste will be the norm. Dress in old clothes, wear aprons and make a lesson of the adage, “Good cooks clean up after themselves.”

* Choose fast and easy options. At least initially, select simple recipes. UNCLE BEN’S READY RICE(R) is a known family favorite, offering up perfectly cooked rice in just 90 seconds and providing a quick base for a number of global cuisine choices. Consider the easy and tasty recipe below or see beginners.unclebens.com for other options.

* Experience trumps outcome. Some projects may not come out as planned, presenting the opportunity to teach your child to deal with (and rebound from) disappointment. Share a laugh together, discuss what may have gone wrong and try again next time.

* Don’t be afraid to experiment. Does your child want to try a new flavor combination or cooking technique? Bring it on, perhaps doling out a small portion of a family-sized dish with which to pursue his idea. That’s how new and better recipes are discovered.

* Keep the conversation flowing. Something about focusing your attention on a shared task can make it easier to talk about subjects that might seem forced or awkward in other settings. As you prepare food together, use the time to casually ask your kids about their thoughts, feelings and life in general, taking time to listen without judgment. They may appreciate the chance to share, and you may be surprised what you learn.

* Bring some celebrity power into the kitchen. Encourage healthy eating by asking your kids to join you on Team FNV (fruits 'n' veggies). Show off the celebrity roster on fnv.com/team with all the superstars who love their fruits and veggies. Be sure to post a photo using #TeamFNV to share your favorite fruit or veggie with the team.

Are you already bonding with your children over cooking? Consider entering the BEN’S BEGINNERS(TM) contest sponsored by UNCLE BEN’S(R). The annual initiative invites families with kids in K-8th grade to submit photos of themselves preparing a rice-based dish to beginners.unclebens.com. Contestants vie for the chance to win $15,000 for their families and $30,000 for school cafeteria makeovers.

Sweet and Spicy Chicken Kebabs with Rice

Makes 4 servings. Prep time: 15 minutes. Cook: 15 minutes.

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon lime juice

1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 package UNCLE BEN’S READY RICE(R) Garden Vegetable

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into 32 chunks

1 medium red pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces

1 small red onion, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

1 cup fresh pineapple cut into 1-inch chunks

Vegetarian option: Replace chicken with broccoli florets and yellow squash

Directions:

Prepare your grill, soaking wooden skewers for at least 10 minutes.

Combine the first 6 ingredients in a large bowl, then add the chicken, bell pepper and onion. Cover and let sit 10 minutes.

Skewer the pineapple, lightly spray with cooking spray, grill 3 minutes on each side, then remove from heat.

Skewer the chicken, bell pepper and onion, spray with cooking spray and grill 10 minutes on each side (or until done).

Remove the pineapple from the skewer, then chop it coarsely and add it to the rice you’ve prepared according to package directions. Serve with kebabs.

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