By Monica Trentini
The holidays are a family time, so why not them making your traditional holiday foods and other dishes with your children? Children of all ages love to cook. Toddlers can do something as simple as mixing primary colored frostings to make secondary colors and frost cupcakes or cookies like the pre-schoolers did at a recent Preschoolers’ Book Club meeting. I made purple!” one of them stated, shocked by the new color he mixed. School-age children can practice counting and adding fractions by helping you measure ingredients. Children who are reading can practice reading comprehension by following a recipe on their own. They can also write recipes to make a book of their favorites to give away.

Ruth Hollard from the Pre-schooler’s Book Club recommends The Children’s Step by Step Cook Book by Angela Wilkes. Each recipe is clearly illustrated. Her five year old son Valentin loves to cook and enjoys following the recipes in this book. He also likes to make sauces like any Frenchman should. The Children’s Step by Step Cook Book is available for check-out to Preschoolers’ Book Club members. Find out more about it by contacting Ruth at 9405-6424.

When you are cooking with a child, it is a good idea to allow him or her to get a little messy exploring the ingredients, feeling the textures and tasting them. Talk to them about the importance of each ingredient in your recipe. Talk about what substitutes would be appropriate. Explain the importance of measuring correctly especially if you are baking with chemicals like baking powder or soda.

Are you looking for a good place to buy fresh ingredients? Try the Mercado Municipal. There is one in the centro and another in Santo Amaro. (see below for more information) If you go early in the morning, they have the freshest fruits and vegetables. They have ingredients you could never find at a supermarket – like chocolate chips. I can also get them easily if you contact me. These are both more reasonably priced, and not in the best part of town. Dress appropriately. There is also a wonderful up-scale fresh food market at the Morumbi Shopping. Just going to these markets is a treat. You can taste all kinds of cheeses, olives and nuts there.

Mr. Shetler, a third grade teacher from Graded school, cooks with his class often. Once the ingredients are all out and ready, the students write the recipe on a white board or piece of paper. As they add each ingredient, they erase or cross out that step. This helps them to keep track of what they have done and it also helps since they have to take turns measuring, adding, and mixing ingredients.

Both boys and girls enjoy cooking. Who doesn’t like playing with food? Here is how a few newcomers cook with their children: Mercedes Villagra’s son, Leon, enjoys cooking. Mercedes says: “He loves making gnocchi and it is not very difficult. Besides, it gives him the chance to play with it as if it were clay.”

Ellen Gruebel says, “My daughters love to help with making one of our favorite recipes: Oriental Cabbage Salad. You can find it in the Graded Gourmet. They like to help with chopping the nuts and cooking the hard noodles and they like eating it because it is delicious. Over the holidays, we like to make regular sugar cookies in cut-out shapes (stars, bells, hearts). We put sprinkles on these cookies to make them very festive. We also make Pecan Puffs. These are miniature round melt-in-your mouth pecan cookies that are rolled in confectioner’s sugar. You can find the recipe in the Graded Gourmet.” For more info on purchasing the Graded Gourmet, a wonderful bi-lingual cookbook, please contact Ellen Gruebel at 5523-5610.

Katharine Connelly has a three and a half year old son, Ryan. Ryan Connelly regularly cooks meals with his father Robert and bakes breads, cookies and cakes with his mother. Katharine says, “Ryan showed an interest in cooking at an early age. He likes making beverages as simple as peach ice tea to more difficult dishes like teriyaki chicken over rice.” Katharine has discovered that her son eats a more varied diet if he participates in making the meal. She says, “Many times if he has helped prepare them, Ryan will eat things like salads and vegetables which he would normally refuse to even try.”

If you don’t have time to cook with your children, or if you feel that you lack the ability, there is a simple solution for you. You can buy frozen pao de queijo at the supermarket, or you can make your own cookie dough, roll it in balls and freeze it to bake later with your children. Your children will enjoy this activity and it is not messy, difficult, or time consuming. And at the end, you will have a delicious treat to eat or to serve at a party. If you are a little more daring and would like to do something typically Brazilian, you can buy the brigadeiro filling in cans and chocolate sprinkles and have fun making brigadeiros with your children. Ask your maid to help you with this fun activity. You can also make cajuzinhos (peanut sweets) from store bought mix. Be sure to tell your children to save licking their fingers for the end!

One last note, when I was growing up in Brazil, we decorated ginger-bread cookies with bikinis and swim trunks at Christmas time. They already came with tans, so why not? Recently, I made some sugar cookies and the dough came out too moist to roll out. I was in a hurry, so I put the dough in a pastry bag and squirted the shapes out on wax paper. I made a thin confectioner’s sugar icing and put sprinkles on them. I added a little lemon to the icing. The cookies were a success, and so easy to make!

Here are a few recipes I have tried making with my son, Lorenzo:
Monster Bread:
Put a few drops of food coloring in 1/3C. of milk. Use a paint brush to paint a piece of white bread. Toast it. The colors come out brighter and the toast is much more fun to eat!
Baked Bananas:
Slice bananas in a baking dish. Sprinkle brown sugar, honey and lemon on them. Bake 15 minutes. These are delicious!
Homemade Chocolate Sauce:
Cut up a bar of semi-sweet chocolate. Melt it over a low flame. Add 2 T of butter and C. of confectioner’s sugar. Add a tablespoon of vanilla. Stir in milk until you have the desired consistency. Serve over vanilla ice cream. Yum!

Vocabulary Words

Cheese bread…….Pao de queijo
Chocolate Balls…..Brigadeiro
Peanut Sweets……Cajuzinhos
Chocolate Sprinkles…Chocolate Granulado
Brown sugar…….acar mascavo
Confectioner’s sugar…..acar de confeiteiro
Food coloring (gel or drops).corante artificial para fins alimentares (gel ou goats)
Lime (yellow lemons are very hard to find)………..limão
Semi-sweet chocolate..chocolate meio-amargo

Mercado Municipal de Santo Amaro
Rua Jos Padre de Anchieta, 953 (5687-2707)
Mercado Municipal – Centro –
Rua da Cantareira, 306 (228-0673)

Monica Trentini was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and was raised in Belo Horizonte and Rio de Janeiro. She lives in São Paulo with her Brazilian husband and two children. She has a cookie business, making and selling baked cookies, cookie dough and festive pizza-size cookies. The recipes in this article are also available in Portuguese. If you would like more information, or if you have any comments on the article, please contact Monica Trentini at