Some (fun) assembly required

A recipe for oven-baked chicken tenders provides many opportunities for little helpers. A recipe for oven-baked chicken tenders provides many opportunities for little helpers. (Food Styling/Sheryl Julian, Lisa Falso; Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff)
By Julie Riven
Globe Correspondent / June 10, 2009

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Pull out a rolling pin, kitchen shears, a few bowls, and a baking sheet. Fill a small plastic container with hot soapy water and pop a sponge into it. It's time to teach kids to cook. And there's plenty of time right now. Most parents of young children are looking ahead to a long hot summer and feeling a little anxious about filling all those days with activities.

You or another adult need to be on hand to supervise, of course, and an extra degree of patience might be necessary (no matter how careful kids are, the kitchen will get messy). But the results are almost instant and the satisfaction you'll see on little faces will be cheering.

Start your summer cooking series with chicken tenders. Although they're typically deep-fried, which is part of their universal appeal, there's a healthier oven version in which a cracker crumb coating turns very crisp and keeps the chicken moist.

For the coating, the kids can make their own crumbs in a plastic bag with a rolling pin. In this case, the crackers are Ritz, which add a little sweetness. Other chores include smashing garlic in a press; whisking an egg, and cutting up boneless chicken breasts. For that, kitchen shears work well and they're safer than a knife.

Set up an assembly line so the chicken, egg, and crumbs are in a row, with the baking dish at the end of the line. Dip the chicken in the egg wash; roll it in the bag of crumbs; set the pieces in the dish, and drizzle with honey. As it cooks, the chicken caramelizes. And in the half hour it takes, you can put away all the cooking equipment.

Then set the table, mix honey with mustard to use as a dipping sauce, and invite the junior chefs to pull up a chair. If you're lucky, they'll stick around for the clean-up.