June 25, 2008

Cooking-Themed Parties Help Kids Learn, Laugh and Eat

Hosting two children's birthday parties two months in a row was just too much for Christa and Gary Aquilla.

Their son, Christian, turned one on May 5 and, the family threw a combination Mickey Mouse-Cinco de Mayo birthday party at their home in Sandy.

When daughter Brianna's third birthday came up on June 14, they let the Young Chefs Academy in Draper do the work.

The children's cooking school is one of several Utah businesses that offer birthday celebrations with a culinary twist. Besides having the usual birthday party fun and games, children gain culinary skills and nutrition knowledge and -- best of all -- parents have a hassle-free day without the clean-up.

Brianna Aquilla's "positively perfect pizza party" included making the dough and putting pre-made sauce and toppings on the personal-size pizzas.

Young Chefs also sent out invitations and provided goodie bags for party-goers. Parties at the school cost $7 to $9 per child.

So Cupcake, in Salt Lake City, hosts "frosting parties" where kids frost their own cupcakes and get a tour of the bakery. Owners Kevin and Natalie Jensen said the children enjoy picking out their own colors and toppings.

"They don't have to pick up the mess, we have everything ready for them," Kevin Jensen said. "And the kids have a lot of fun."

House of Bread, also in Salt Lake City, hosts events for children as well.

Owner Lynne Aoyama said each event can include up to 15 children for about an hour.

The children make bread or a personal pizza, tour the bakery and learn about the role food plays in being healthy.

"At our bakery, all our products are all natural and made from scratch, so I incorporate that in my tour," Aoyama said. "Instead of just going to a grocery store where they see the finished product they can actually see it being made."

Lisa Strassberg, mother of 3-year-old Mia, said her daughter enjoyed Aquilla's party and exposed her to the kitchen in a relaxed atmosphere, not during the hectic dinner rush when most parents are running out of patience.

"Mia has fun cooking at home, but the mess becomes unbearable in the after-work rush to get dinner on the table," Strassberg said. "Personally, being a mom, I lose patience when she tries to help, but she loves to help."

Wendy Dismuke, co-owner of Young Chefs Academy, said the parties also are appealing because of the unusual activities the parties offer.

"A lot of parents have done everything else, so this is new to the area," Dismuke said. "A lot of kids love to cook so they just find that so appealing."

Young Chefs also hosts weekly cooking classes and minicamps for children and young adults. (See accompanying story for pricing.)

"She [Brianna] really enjoys cooking and [Young Chefs Academy] has such a cheerful set-up," Aquilla said. "It's a huge relaxer to have the kids here and have someone else in charge. I can really enjoy this experience with her."