By Martha Ruch

Do you have a pint-sized chef in your house? I had two and did everything I could to encourage, nurture, and instruct (directly and indirectly) during their Wonder Years. We had our share of messes and gross concoctions, as well as a memorable toaster-oven fire, but we also had the neighbor kids over to make gingerbread houses and homemade pizza, and years later, my daughter prepared my birthday dinner, and my son regularly made hamburgers and steak sandwiches as competently as a restaurant line cook. Today, they're self-sufficient young adults who are completely comfortable and happy in the kitchen.

Does your child show an interest in baking, cooking, chemistry, gardening, grocery shopping, or even eating? Use these interests as teaching moments. Many children don't know where the things they're eating come from! This is information we take for granted, but they don't have. Ask your children if they know where the milk they're drinking came from, and they're likely to answer, "The store." Show them an eggplant or a grapefruit and see if they can identify it. Gardens of any size, even in a container, are fascinating to most children, from the planting of the seeds to the watering, seeing the produce grow and, finally, getting to eat it!

Many kids like to bake because the finished product is so appealing. Again, a great teaching moment, whether it's about measuring, accuracy, flexibility, or tastes and textures of food (If you don't like chocolate chips, how about butterscotch chips? If you bake the cookies for 9 minutes, they're soft, if you bake them for 11 minutes, they're crispy).

Below are a few easy recipes to get you and your kids started in the kitchen. Overnight Oats ½ cup old-fashioned oats ½ cup milk (cow, almond, or soy) 1 teaspoon honey or maple syrup 1 Tablespoon raisins Pinch of ground cinnamon Optional: 2 Tablespoons peanut butter Makes 1 serving

Combine all ingredients in a jar or bowl with a tight-fitting lid. Stir, but don't worry about everything mixing up perfectly. Cover and refrigerate overnight. The next morning, enjoy cold, topped with fresh fruit if you'd like. Bite-Size Caprese Salad 1 container Cherub grape tomatoes, rinsed and patted dry 1 container bite-size fresh mozzarella cheese, drained and patted dry 10 leaves fresh basil, torn or sliced Olive oil, salt and pepper Makes 1 serving

Combine the tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil leaves in a bowl. Drizzle with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Hot Fudge Pudding Cake This cake was a favorite of my kids when they were younger. As it bakes, it forms a cake layer as well as a creamy hot fudge layer!

Cake: 1 ¼ cups flour ¾ cup sugar ¼ cup unsweetened baking cocoa 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder ½ teaspoon salt ½ cup milk 2 Tablespoons butter or margarine, melted 1 teaspoon vanilla

Pudding Mixture: 1 cup sugar ¼ cup unsweetened baking cocoa pinch of salt 1 1/3 cups boiling water

Optional: ice cream or whipped cream for serving Serves 8

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, mix flour, ¾ cup sugar, ¼ cup cocoa, baking powder, and ½ teaspoon salt. Stir in the milk, butter and vanilla until well blended. Spread the batter in a greased 8- or 9-inch square or round cake pan.

In a small bowl, mix the 1 cup sugar, ¼ cup cocoa, and pinch of salt. Sprinkle this evenly over the cake batter. Pour the boiling water over the sugar mixture. Carefully place the pan in the oven.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the center is set and firm to the touch. Serve warm, with ice cream or whipped cream, if you'd like. If there is any cake leftover, store in the fridge. No-Cook Fruit Jam 8 cups (2 lbs) fresh fruit (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, or peaches) 2 cups sugar 1 package Ball Instant Fruit Pectin Makes about 6 cups

Wash and dry the fruit. If using peaches, peel the peaches and slice roughly.

Place the fruit in a large bowl and crush it with a potato masher. It will reduce down to about 4 cups of fruit "mash."

Combine the sugar and a 1.59-ounce packet of Ball Instant Fruit Pectin and stir into the fruit for 3 minutes. Transfer the jam into small jars or containers and allow it to set in the fridge for 24 hours. The jam will keep for a week in the refrigerator or 3 months in the freezer.