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Getting Kids Into The Kitchen

Over the past few summers, my sons and I have made so many ice pops that we must be responsible for keeping the popsicle stick industry in business. When I suggested to my older son that we make them this year, his reaction -- and, frankly, mine too -- was, "Again?" It isn't that we don't love popsicles. But as he turns 11, I need to get more creative with summer recipes -- enough to interest him but not overwhelm his 3-but-thinks-he's-11-year-old brother.

So I decided to get help from the big guns -- chefs and cookbook authors who face the same predicament. I'm confident their suggestions (which follow) will help me win "Coolest Mom of the Summer," or at least have well-fed and significantly less bored kids.

Formula Freshen Up: When I e-mailed Associated Press food editor J.M. Hirsch about my ice-pop-boredom dilemma, his answer was to think outside the mold. "Pop molds come in tons of fun shapes and sizes these days. We own at least six or seven sets, including silicone molds, push-pops and some shaped like spaceships. Our basic recipe is orange juice, fat-free yogurt and a banana. We dump everything in the blender, puree until smooth, then freeze. You also can make a great fudge pop by pureeing low-fat milk, fat-free vanilla yogurt and melted chocolate chips."

When I suggested to my older son that we make [popsicles] this year, his reaction -- and, frankly, mine too -- was, "Again?"

Summer Science Lab: Both of my sons have figured out that I love it when they experiment in the kitchen. So I have been fed grapes dipped in peanut butter, apples coated with spreadable cheese, even onions mixed with unidentifiable sauce stuffed between two slices of bread. Virginia-based Meshelle Armstrong -- who, with her husband chef, Cathal Armstrong, runs Restaurant Eve (named for their 11-year-old daughter) and Eamonn's (their 9-year-old son) -- advised me to get the kids' favorite cookies and ice cream, and make ice cream sandwiches. I see oatmeal cookie-Chunky Monkey ice cream sandwiches in my future.

Hail To The Trail: I love trail mix. My older son helped me on a project to create healthy versions, and since then this is a must-do summer project for us. Puffed rice cereal, dried fruits such as mango, cherry or plums, and nuts are a start. Add some imagination (we used diced dates and ice cream sprinkles), mix and serve.

Sparkling Ice: Meshelle Armstrong provided another spectacular idea: "Fill an ice cube tray with a red or blue fruit-flavored beverage, such as cranberry-blueberry juice, and freeze solid. The idea is to use different colored juices. Drop three or four cubes into a glass, add sparkling water, and watch the special effects. As the cubes melt, colored bubbles will swirl through the seltzer."

Freeze Whiz: We are big ice cream fans, so when Hirsch suggested healthy, food-processor "ice cream" for breakfast, which he makes with his 5-year-old son, I was totally intrigued. "Combine a 12-ounce bag of frozen fruit (mango, cherries, peaches, pineapple and blueberries are all delicious), a splash of juice (we often use orange juice, but apple, grapefruit, lemon or even water work in a pinch), a fresh -- not frozen -- banana and a pinch of salt. Process until very smooth, about 2 minutes. Eat immediately. It's cool, smooth and creamy." And the kids get to whiz the food processor.

Over the past summers I've learned one thing we will do "again": Get the kids in the kitchen. By the time they are done, you have a creative, usually edible treat and a messy kitchen. More importantly, you have entertained, happy children.

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Monica Bhide