Family Literacy in the Kitchen

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Originally published in PEI's The Guardian newspaper, Margaret Prouse presents some fun, easy, and engaging family literacy activities.

I’m happy to see that my favourite ways of expressing myself — with writing and cooking — are both recognized as ways of promoting family literacy. ABC Life Literacy Canada says that just 15 minutes a day of reading or doing a literacy activity can improve a child’s literacy dramatically, as well as improving the parent’s literacy skills. Family literacy activities are things that parents can do to help their children gain essential skills in reading comprehension, writing and math. In preparation for Family Literacy Day, which is January 27, ABC Life Literacy Canada has created 15 Minutes of Fun. That’s a list of 15 family activities you can complete in 15 minutes each to advance family literacy. The list is available at http://abclifeliteracy.ca/fld/15-minutes-of-fun.

One of the items on the 15 Minutes of Fun list is to make up a new recipe together and post it online. I’ve been thinking about how that might work. It would depend a lot on the age and experience of the child. At its simplest, the recipe could be for a new sandwich combination or a smoothie, and for children with lots of kitchen experience, it could be a much more elaborate dish such as a stirfry, a pizza or a dessert.

My favourite nine-year-old told me last week about a soup she had invented and was obviously pleased with. With a little help, she had dissolved a few bouillon cubes in some water, added chopped carrots and orange peppers and cooked it until the carrots were slightly softened, but still crunchy. That’s an example of the type of dish that could come out of a 15-minute cooking session.

The next step would be to name the soup, write down the ingredients and amounts and add a few simple directions. Think about the practice that is involved in doing this: creating a name for the recipe, working with whole numbers and fractions to record measurements, making a list, choosing verbs to describe the method, spelling. It is easy to see how the exercise helps to develop literacy skills.

As for posting the recipe online, you’ll have to use your ingenuity. You may have access to a blog or a website where it can be posted or you could, instead, send it by email or regular mail to a friend or relative. There are many other ways to celebrate it, if you prefer. You can keep it in the family recipe collection, start a personal collection with the child or even just post it on the fridge.

If you prefer to follow a recipe, instead of creating one, there are resources designed for children in print and online. Look for children’s cookbooks at the library or search for children’s cooking websites online. You can find some in the links on the P.E.I. Healthy Eating Alliance (www.healthyeatingpei.ca) website. The website for the Eating Between the Lines project, (www.ebtl.org), a made-in-P.E.I. initiative, has a parents' and kids' section with plenty of material that is fun for children, while helping them to build literacy skills and an interest in healthy eating. Families searching for an organized way to help their children learn to cook can find lots of direction, ideas and recipes for kids with beginning, intermediate or advanced cooking skills, from registered dietitians at Dairy Farmers of Canada at www.familykitchen.ca.

Another idea that I found on the ABC Life Literacy site is to have a book-nic, an indoor picnic featuring books and delicious food treats. The idea is to choose a theme around family food and reading preferences; for example, munch on honey-flavoured cereal while reading Winnie the Pooh stories. You could have carrot sticks while reading Beatrix Potter’s Tale of Peter Rabbit or ice cream while reading the picnic scene in Anne of Green Gables.

Here is a family-friendly recipe that parent and child or children could prepare and enjoy together. The parent could do the knife work, and even a fairly young child could combine the other ingredients. If you do not have a gadget to core the apples, you can cut them in wedges, remove and discard the core, toss the wedges into a square baking dish with the sauce, and microwave as directed. Because the pieces are smaller, you can expect them to cook in less time.

MICROWAVE BAKED APPLES
Adapted from Methven, Barbara and Sara Jean Thoms: Microwaving Fruits & Vegetables, Publication Arts, Inc., Minnetonka, Minnesota, 1981.
4 cooking apples
25 mL (2 tbsp) brown sugar
90 mL (6 tbsp) apple juice
45 mL (3 tbsp) raisins
2 mL (1/2 tsp) cinnamon (optional)
1. Core apples; peel a strip of apple skin 1/3 down around apple to allow steam to escape. Blend brown sugar, apple juice, raisins and cinnamon.
2. Place apples in a 23-cm (9-inch) round or 20-cm (8-inch) square baking dish, leaving centre empty. Pour apple juice and brown sugar mixture around apples.
3. Cover with lid or wax paper. Microwave at high 6 to 7 minutes, or until almost tender, spooning sauce over apples and rotating dish a half-turn after half the cooking time.

4. Let stand 2 to 3 minutes. Serve in individual dishes with the sauce. Makes 4 servings.

Posted with the author's permission. Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at margaret@islandgusto.com.

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