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Kids in the Kitchen: Let Them in on the Fun

Kids in the kitchen: If you're trying to watch them at the same time as you cook, they can be a real pain in the neck. But if you let them in on the fun, they can be a joy to behold.

They don't have to know from the beginning that you're giving them recipes for treats that are good for them—all that counts for now is that it's fun to do and tastes good.

Start with the Boy Scout motto: Be prepared.

Gather your ingredients and utensils before you begin and you'll teach organization skills.

Make sure you have a clear work space at a comfortable level for your smallest cook. Bringing work down to a child-size table is safer than bringing a child up to counter height on a stool.

If you're baking with one child, steer gently and let the child do all of the prep work. With two or more, divide the tasks so everyone has input into the final result.

Here are two recipes that fit the bill for teaching some baking basics and setting some good nutrition patterns early. It won't matter a whole lot if measurements are a bit off in these user-friendly recipes. All you'll need are some simple tools and tolerance for a few spills. These recipes are safe for a child to make (with adult help) and are practically foolproof.

These recipes are sophisticated enough for older tastes and simple enough to involve a preschooler just learning coordination. They get a dietitian's vote of approval, too, but keep in mind the most important ingredient is fun.

You won't need fancy electrical equipment or knives. You will need bowls, measuring cups and spoons. As a general rule, the smaller the child, the bigger the bowl and spoon should be.

The recipes produce colorful, tasty treats that are low in fat and high in nutrition.

Remember mud pies? There's something about the first mixing stage of these applesauce oatmeal cookies that feels like mixing mud. It's the color of the brown sugar, the gooeyness of the molasses, and the stirring technique used.

The muffin recipe will produce a snack that is packed with fiber and beta-carotene. Best of all, your child can say, "I made it myself."

Pumpkin Muffins

1 cup canned pumpkin (use 100 percent pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling)

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

3/4 cup flour

1/2 cup walnuts, broken into pieces

Put 12 paper muffin cups into muffin pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a big bowl, combine pumpkin, sugar, oil and egg. Mix well with a wooden spoon. Add baking soda, baking powder cinnamon, nutmeg and flour. Mix well. Add walnuts. Mix again. Pour mixture evenly into 12 muffin cups. Bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees. Makes 12 muffins.

Nutritional analysis (per muffin): 132 calories, 4 grams fat, 3 grams protein, 21 grams carbohydrate.

Applesauce Oatmeal Cookies

1 stick of butter, softened until it's "smooshy"

1 cup dark brown sugar, packed

1/4 cup molasses

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 egg

2 cups applesauce, more or less

3 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 cups oatmeal

1 cup raisins

Put butter into a large mixing bowl at least an hour before you want to make cookies. Get all ingredients out and ready to measure. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. When butter is really soft, stir in brown sugar really well. Add molasses, vanilla and egg. Stir in applesauce. Add flour, baking soda and oatmeal. Stir well. Mix in raisins. Spray two cookie sheets with cooking spray. Use two pans so you can prepare a second one while the first is in the oven. Use about a tablespoon of batter for each cookie. Leave room so they can spread a little bit. Bake for about 13 minutes at 375 degrees. Cookies will be slightly brown and puffy. Remove cookies from cookie sheet with a spatula and let cool on wire rack. Makes about 45 cookies.

Nutritional analysis (per 5 cookies): 460 calories, 11 grams of fat, 7 grams of protein, 83 grams of carbohydrate.