Children often want to try their hand in the kitchen long before they can read. No problem. The whole venture can be as easy as pie, once you've ``translated'' the written recipes into simple pictures. Of course, you'll have spills here and there. But the project will be worth the effort, because cooking can be a creative outlet for young ones. And it's sure to give them an added measure of self-reliance.
Remember always to work with your youngsters and stay away from complicated recipes. Concoct things like gelatin dessert with or without fruit, cream cheese and celery, cinnamon toast, cottage cheese and jelly mix, bananas cut lengthwise and spread with peanut butter, and easy-to-spread or grilled cheese sandwiches.
Here's how to go about the venture.
Use one sheet of 8-by-12-inch paper for each recipe. Start right away to clip the pages together, letting the child know that this is his own special cookbook. The pages can be covered with clear contact paper for durability.
List utensils, ingredients, and cooking instructions by picture drawings -- a simple line drawing of each object with the word or process printed next to the illustration. (There's a bonus in reading readiness here. A child will eventually grasp that written words stand for objects and activities.) Represent two eggs by two ovals with the word ``egg'' and the numeral ``2.''
Be sure to use colors. If your mixing bowl is blue, draw it with a blue marker. If your sugar jar is brown, draw it in brown. The process of stirring can be drawn as a spoon intersecting a circle. Once you talk about these symbols with your child, he'll pick up the code quite quickly.
List items by group -- utensils first, then ingredients.
List cooking instructions in their proper sequence, but don't number them, as this is confusing to a child. Be specific. Include all details, such as washing vegetables before cutting them. A few simple blue lines can indicate ``wash with water.''
A parent is sometimes tempted to draw the recipe first, all neat and nice, then present it to the child for the cooking session. This robs a youngster of half the fun. It's better to work together all the way.
Assemble the items and go through the process. After each step, share ideas for the proper symbol, decide on one, and draw it. The child can draw the simple symbols, the parent the difficult ones plus the words. Let the child do the coloring of all items.
A good example of this kind of book has been published by the University of Illinois at Chicago Children's Center. It's called ``I Made It Myself, A Cookbook for Young Children.''
While it may take 45 minutes to make that peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you'll never taste a better one.