MEAL PREPARATION Book serves as source of kitchen fun for kids

The games and activities require only common kitchen supplies.
Parents hear two admonishments that seem to compete with each other: Fix nutritious dinners. Don't let your kids watch too much TV.
How exactly do you accomplish one without resorting to the second (and still keep your sanity)?
A new book, "365 Unplugged Family Fun Activities" by Steve and Ruth Bennett (Da Capo Lifelong Books, $10.95), highlights numerous kitchen-related games and activities to help entertain kids during meal preparation.
Here are some of their ideas, which require only common kitchen supplies.
* Edible Tic-Tac-Toe: Use four Popsicle sticks or chopsticks to set up a grid on a plate or place mat. Slice two different vegetables, such as cucumbers and carrots, for playing pieces. Use tongs or chopsticks to move the edible pieces. Winner eats all. For older kids, add a penalty that if their vegetable drops, they lose their turn.
* Buzz ball: Two or more children gather in a corner of the kitchen and pass an orange, potato or apple back and forth. Set a timer and when it goes off, the person holding the object gets a point (low score wins). Or players can spell out kitchen, getting a letter for every object they're caught holding.
* Kitchen categories: This word game passes time without requiring any props. Name a category, such as a color, sweets or appliances. Then take turns naming items that fit. For example, "green" might bring to mind broccoli, cucumbers and Granny Smith apples. With older kids, make it a competition to see who can list the most.
* Cereal art: Got a bunch of stale cereal in your cupboard? Give kids a piece of sturdy paper, a cotton swab and some glue in a dish. They can use this and the cereal to make a food mosaic. Older children can draw an outline and then fill it in. Provide markers for any missing details.
* Cooking show: For this, get your kids involved in making dinner -- and videotape it. Have them pick a favorite meal to prepare, help get the ingredients together, then record them preparing it as though they were on a cooking show. Encourage them to describe everything they're doing in detail. No doubt Grandma and Grandpa will be enthusiastic viewers.
* Lid games: Gather a selection of plastic bowls, margarine tubs and other storage containers with lids. Remove all the lids, mix them up and see how quickly children can put them back on the right containers.
* Some variations: Turn on a timer and try to beat the clock, making the time shorter each round. Or play the game blindfolded.
* Marshmallow launch: Give each child a plastic or metal spoon with a flat handle. Rest the spoon on the floor or a table, set a marshmallow on the handle, then slap the round part to catapult the marshmallow.
For older kids, arrange targets such as container tops or paper plates. Kids can assign points to targets if they want. Catapults must stay behind a designated launching line as kids try to hit the targets.
To maintain order, only give kids a limited number of marshmallows so they have to keep retrieving them. Or make cleanup a game (who can collect the most marshmallows before the timer goes off?).
* Noodle maze: Use cooked spaghetti to make a circular maze on a paper plate. Run a chopstick along the noodle pathways to find the way out. For an extra challenge, set a timer. If mazes get boring, see if they can write their names in noodles. Younger kids can cut strands into pieces for block letters.