Little foodies

“These kids watch Food Network more than they watch cartoons,” says Lynn Elliot, president and owner of Way-Cool Cooking School in Eden Prairie. “Kids want to cook, and they like to cook. They’re just scared to do it.”

Although kids relish summer adventures, not every child is cut out for capture the flag and “Kumbaya” by the campfire. With the number of specialized camps increasing, a cooking camp for kids no longer sounds outlandish. Creative kids, whether they’re confident in the kitchen or just starting out, may want to give it a try. And their parents might find dinner ready and waiting.

Founded in 2004, the Way-Cool Cooking School gives kids and teens a chance to try their hand in a professional kitchen. Through hands-on experience and creativity, kids explore the tools and techniques of a kitchen and expand their culinary repertoire. Boys and girls choose from over 20 themes, such as Passion for Pasta, Just Desserts, or Food for Movie Lovers.

“It builds their confidence,” Elliot says.

Elliot grew up surrounded by food. Working at her grandmother’s café taught her the kitchen basics. “Those experiences helped shape the person I am today and ignited my passion for cooking,” she says.

Restaurant work paid her way through college, and jobs as a food broker and distributor soon followed.

“I left a corporate job as the vice president of marketing for a food company because I wanted to start my own business. It took some soul-searching,” she says of the school’s early years.

The inspiration to start Way-Cool Cooking School came from Elliot’s daughter. “She commented how much her friends like coming to our house, because I let them cook in the kitchen and their moms and dads don’t,” she says. “The idea took off from there.”

Summer camps range from one to four days. “My favorite is seeing the creativity with ingredients in the Iron Chef challenge,” Elliot says. “Another fun one is Create Your Own Restaurant. Kids get to tour restaurants and make their own menu.” Other themes for 2010 include Food Network Star Recipes, Ace of Cakes, and French Cooking with Julia Child.

“I see cooking lessons as a lifelong skill that can ignite their creativity, build their self-esteem, help with their math skills, prepare them for babysitting and parenting, and most importantly build family values and memories that will last forever,” Elliot says.

Sessions run from June 8 to Sept. 3, with full- and half-day options available.

Preschoolers cook, too!

Tesseract School in Eagan has offered weeklong summer day camps for the past 20 years. “We look at where kids’ cooking skills are, and focus on where they can go from there,” says Chris Nyhus, the office manager of the Tesseract.

In the cooking camp, preschoolers and elementary-age kids learn measurement and how to use basic baking tools. “They mix their own taco seasoning, soup mixes, and pasta sauces. All they have to do at home is add water and meat,” she says.

Field trips are often a highlight of the camp, such as the preschoolers’ excursion to Domino’s pizza. “Little kids don’t have a concept of the whole food process,” says Nyhus, herself a parent of a 4th-grader. “They see a real restaurant kitchen, get to play with the dough, and bring their homemade pizza home. It’s messy, floury fun!”

Past recipes have included glop (a type of trail mix), pizza sandwiches, and ants-on-a-log. Kids create their own simple, kid-friendly snacks, and a batch of inedible play dough.

“As a parent, I think it’s great,” says Nyhus. “They literally have a blast!”

This year’s cooking camp runs July 12–16.

Megan Hussong is an intern with Minnesota Parent.

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