Kids are some of superstar chef Emeril Lagasse's most adoring fans. At the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival held in Miami Beach every winter, kids flood Lagasse's extremely popular cooking demonstrations. In the past four years, he has written three cookbooks just for kids, including his latest, There's a Chef in My World. At home, Lagasse cooks healthy meals for four-year-old Emeril John (E.J.) and two-year-old Meril. "You are going to be what you put in your body, so I try to teach that to my kids, and the kids around me."
1. Use cooking to teach more than food
"When I cook with my son, I might chop vegetables and have fun with different shapes. Cooking is a way to teach kids about other things, like reading or math with all of the weights and measures. There are so many things that are part of cooking that are also very educational."
2. Remember safety and sanitation
"I try to teach my son about sanitation, especially when handling foods like chicken that could be dangerous. I remind him to wash his hands all the time. When my son cooks with me, he stands on a step stool so he can reach the stove. I teach him about safety and fire."
3. Have patience
"My son already wants to start using a knife. I let him, but I guide him every step of the way. I think the food processor and blender are good, because we can just pour things in and push a button. When he wants to season things on his own too, I have to tell him things like, 'The celery salt will come out really fast, so go easy.' Family supervision is important; you can't just turn them loose. It's about being patient."
4. Adjust recipes for kids
"I think you have to be careful with spices. Kids' palates can be very delicate, and they might not like things overspiced. In my cookbooks for kids, I do a milder version of my signature spice blend, Emeril's Essence, called Baby Bam, which has no cayenne pepper. You also can't overcomplicate recipesyou have to focus on keeping a child's attention, and sometimes their attention span is only four minutes."
5. Make mealtime a priority
"Even as a chef, I try to eat at home as often as possible. I make it work no matter my schedule, because gathering around the table is an important way to spend time together as a family. If I'm working in the restaurant world, I usually eat at home at least three nights a weekbut then, I'll try to have breakfast with my kids most days. When I'm in the television world, I have to skip breakfast with them because my day starts so early, but then I'm home for dinner six nights a week. And of course, there's the weekends. Sunday is the big family day when everyone knows we're going to have a big meal."