It's no exaggeration that the dinner hour is a hectic one for working moms and dads. Yet with a little planning, children can help get the evening meal ready while parents are still at the office.

Without using any sharp knives or turning on a hot stove, children can assemble dinner ahead of time so that all that remains is the baking. The oven-ready dish can be finished when parents get home, and in 30 minutes or so, dinner is served. Aside from taking a load off busy parents, , the cook will get a great feeling of contribution.

Before you turn your child into a short-order cook, however, a few suggestions. The first few times, it is important that your child know where to find things in the kitchen and what he or she may use. Together, you might set the recipe and utensils out the night before. Cleaning up after preparing the meal should also be discussed. Dishes should be washed or rinsed and left in the sink, food should be put away, and counter tops should be wiped clean.

Show your child how to safely use a vegetable peeler for salad vegetables. Instead of a knife, show your child how to safely use a pastry scraper for cutting. With its square, dull blade and a handle across the top, it should do the job safely and efficiently.

While you should determine how much your child is able to do, the following recipes are written in enough detail for a child aged 8 and up to follow. Remind your child to wash his or her hands, read the recipe and find all the ingredients before starting. Instructions for cooking -- to be done by parents -- accompany each recipe.


(Makes about 1/4 cup)

After you make this dressing and you know how you like it, double or quadruple the recipe. Pour it over lettuce, carrots, celery, tomatoes, chick peas, olives, nuts, leftover vegetables or other things you like in a salad.

1 1/2 teaspoons mustard (Dijon or your family's favorite)

1 tablespoon vinegar

Pinch of thyme

Salt and black pepper

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Put the mustard in a small jar that has a lid. Add the vinegar, thyme and a shake or two of salt and pepper. Put on the top and shake the jar. Open the jar and add the oil. Close the jar and shake again. Now take a piece of lettuce and dip it in the dressing. Taste it. Does it need salt or pepper? How about more vinegar? More oil? You might try a pinch of basil from the spice shelf or a pinch of sugar from the sugar bowl. When the dressing tastes perfect, put the top on the jar. Just before dinner shake it well. Pour it on top of a salad.

Per tablespoon: 93 calories, .1 gm protein, .4 gm carbohydrates, 10 gm fat, 1 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 26 mg sodium.


(4 servings)

This is an old fashioned supper dish. You can even make it the day before you want to serve it, but be sure to refrigerate it until baking.

10 slices bread

4 tablespoons butter or margarine

2 1/2 cups of grated cheese (cheddar, American or Swiss)

4 eggs

3 cups milk

2 teaspoons mustard

1/4 teaspoon salt

Butter the bread. Cut the slices in half. Place as many slices as will fit in the bottom of an 8-inch square pie pan or other baking dish,, making sure the edges touch or slightly overlap so there are no gaps between them. Sprinkle each slice with cheese. Layer with the remaining bread and cheese.

In a bowl mix the eggs, milk, mustard and salt with a fork. Pour over the bread slices. Cover and refrigerate.

When the parents get home: Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or just until lightly browned.

Per serving: 745 calories, 35 gm protein, 41 gm carbohydrates, 49 gm fat, 28 gm saturated fat, 404 mg cholesterol, 1203 mg sodium.


(4 servings)

You can defrost the spinach in the refrigerator, but leaving the ingredients at room temperature for one hour is usually long enough to be able to mix up this tasty vegetable dish. For a variation try using frozen chopped broccoli.

10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach

3 ounces cream cheese

1 egg

Pinch of nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon parsley flakes or Italian seasoning

1 teaspoon minced onion flakes

1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper

Juice of 1/2 lemon

3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

Butter for greasing pan

Unwrap spinach and cream cheese and put them in a bowl. Let come to room temperature for 1 hour. Break up spinach and cheese with a fork and mix together.

Add egg and the rest of the ingredients, except one tablespoon of Parmesan cheese. Mix again.

Butter an 8- or 9-inch pie pan. Pour mixture into pan. Sprinkle with rest of cheese. Cover and refrigerate.

When parents get home: Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes. Cut into wedges to serve.

Per serving: 141 calories, 7 gm protein, 6 gm carbohydrates, 11 gm fat, 6 gm saturated fat, 96 mg cholesterol, 363 mg sodium.


(4 servings)

Serve these baked chicken parts either hot for dinner or cold for a picnic. They are delicious either way. The recipe calls for skinned chicken thighs, but you can also use chicken breasts or drumsticks.

12 chicken thighs

Salt and pepper, to taste

4 teaspoons mustard

3/4 cup bread crumbs

1 tablespoon thyme

1 tablespoon basil

1 tablespoon oregano

1 tablespoon butter or margarine

Pull the skin off the chicken thighs with your hands. It should slip off quite easily. Salt and pepper the chicken. Put the mustard in a small bowl and, with a pastry brush, brush the chicken with the mustard.

Mix the bread crumbs with the herbs on a plate. Grease a baking dish with the butter or margarine.

Roll the chicken in the herb-crumb mixture and place the chicken in the baking dish.

Cover the baking dish with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator until time to bake.

When the parents get home: Bake the chicken for 30 minutes at 375 degrees. Check the chicken after 20 minutes of baking. If it seems dry, carefully spoon some of the pan juices over each of the chicken pieces.

Per serving: 391 calories, 42 gm protein, 5 gm carbohydrates, 22 gm fat, 7 gm saturated fat, 157 mg cholesterol, 288 mg sodium.


(Makes 8 mini pizzas)

1 teaspoon yeast

2/3 cup water

2 pinches salt

2 teaspoons oil

2 cups flour

Pizza sauce, commercial or homemade

Grated mozzarella cheese

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water in a bowl. Add the salt and oil. Stir in the flour 1/4 cup at a time. Mix very well after each addition. The dough should form a ball and clean the sides of the bowl. If the dough is very sticky, add a spoonful or two of flour.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead the dough for 3 minutes. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes.

Punch the dough down. Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Shape each into a ball. Flatten each ball and shape it into a round pizza shell. Place the pizza shells on a lightly greased sheet pan.

Put a large spoonful of pizza sauce on each pizza. Top with grated mozzarella. Cover the pizzas lightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until time to bake.

When parents get home: Bake pizzas for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

Per pizza: 206 calories, 9 gm protein, 25 gm carbohydrates, 8 gm fat, 4 gm saturated fat, 22 mg cholesterol, 560 mg sodium.


(Makes 16 cookies)

This recipe makes good, plain cookies or you can add a favorite flavor from the list below.

1/2 stick butter or margarine

1/3 cup sugar

1 egg yolk (if you want to double this recipe, use one whole egg instead of 2 egg yolks)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Pinch of salt

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 cup flour

Take the butter out of the refrigerator and let it sit for about 20 minutes so it can soften a little. With a wooden spoon mix the butter and sugar together in a bowl until they are creamy and smooth. Add the egg yolk and the vanilla. Mix well.

Stir in the salt and baking powder. Stir in the flour. If you want to make either of the flavors listed below, stir in those ingredients now:

Chocolate: Add 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder or a handful of chocolate chips or broken pieces of a candy bar.

Oatmeal Raisin: Add 1/3 cup oatmeal, 1/4 cup raisins and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon.

Shape into 16 round cookies with a spoon or your fingers, and place the cookies on a greased baking pan. Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap. If it will be more than an hour before baking, place the pan with the cookies in the refrigerator.

When the parents get home: Bake cookies for about 10 minutes at 375 degrees or until lightly brown. Remove from the oven and take them off of the pan to cool. A cookie rack or paper towels on top of a dish towel is a good place to cool cookies.

Per cookie (basic recipe): 65 calories, .8 gm protein, 8 gm carbohydrates, 3 gm fat, 2 gm saturated fat, 25 mg cholesterol, 68 mg sodium.

Catherine Evans is local cooking teacher who specializes in teaching children and basic cooking techniques.