Grilling & Chilling with Kids

Whether an excuse for friends and family to gather or simply a way to prepare quick, easy meals, your grill is the center of summer activity. Hosting or attending barbecues is a terrific way to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere associated with warmer weather, but beware of unwelcome events: burns, chemical exposure, food preparation illness or harmful incidents resulting from young guests’ boredom. Knowing how to occupy little fingers while keeping them out of harm’s way will ensure your family and guests enjoy countless backyard barbecues this season.

Staying safe
A member of the American Burn Association’s Prevention Committee and Outreach Coordinator for the Arkansas Children’s Hospital Burn Center in Little Rock, Ark., Jimmy Parks has seen the effects of barbecue flames that flare out of control or of children playing too close to the grill.

“It is important to always use properly rated grilling mitts, to not allow children or guests other than a responsible adult in charge of the grill near the barbecue, and to pay attention to the heat radiating from the grill,” says Parks, a registered nurse who is a seasoned burn-care expert with more than 15 years at Arkansas’ Burn Center.

The games children play
Karen Adler and Judith Fertig, authors of Weeknight Grilling with the BBQ Queens: Making Meals Fast and Fabulous, suggest planning activities for kids in advance. “Plan more than you think you need, and have something new for every 15 minutes you aren’t sitting down eating,” Adler advises.

To ensure everyone’s safety, all activities should be supervised by an adult, and all toys should be played with and stored a safe distance away from the grill. “Activities can include making a drink just for kids, playing tag, yard games, picking something from the garden for the salad, etc.,” Adler adds.

Cook up fun
Creating a bubble pond by filling a small plastic pool with bubble solution is a favorite way to entertain children for Sara Thompson of Endicott, Wash. “I like to give the kids several items that they can dip into the ‘pond’ to make bubbles with,” she says.

Budding scientists will enjoy combining 2 2/3 cups dishwashing soap, 3 gallons water and 7 to 9 tablespoons of glycerin (available in pharmacies). Carefully mix the bubble solution to prevent a pool of small suds that won’t produce large blowing bubbles.

Put little hands to use
A mother of two, Lisa Jaeger of Baldwinsville, N.Y., recommends creating opportunities for children to safely participate in the cookout. “Our children love to make grilled pizzas and add their own favorite toppings,” she notes.

Assign your preschooler or elementary-aged child the task of mixing ingredients for a dry rub or the chance to help set the picnic table. “Let them arrange a condiment or topping bar for salads, burgers, etc.,” adds Cheryl Jamison, co-author of The Big Book of Outdoor Cooking & Entertaining.

Kid-approved fare
Occupy hungry kids by sending them on a search to gather sticks such as maple, oak, elm or other hardwoods. (Pines are resinous, give food a bad taste, and burn easily.) The kids can thread hot dogs, big strawberries, bananas, pineapple or marshmallows on their sticks for an adult to grill.

More than S’mores
“Dessert is a great meal to grill with children,” says Elizabeth Mlotkiewicz of Wichita, Kan. To create a tasty grilled treat, slice bananas lengthwise, leaving them in the peel. Have children pour chocolate syrup into the banana (adults can add liqueurs such as Baileys) and wrap them in foil for the chef to grill for a few minutes. Serve with whipped cream.

Grilled fruit cups are another easy-to-make treat. To prepare, place halved peaches, plums, nectarines, apricots, etc., on the grill for 3 to 4 minutes until lightly charred. Serve warm with ice cream, sherbet, whipped cream or frozen yogurt.

Make your grill shine
Cleaning the leftover food that sticks to your grill’s grates is easier when the grate and food are fresh and warm. Scrape the grate with a wire brush immediately after removing the food to keep your grates sanitary. The Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association also recommends periodically cleaning the Venturi tubes under a gas grill and reading the manufacturer’s instructions for proper care and usage guidelines.

Timing is everything
Barbecuing experts Cheryl and Bill Jamison recommend using a food thermometer to verify the temperature of food before serving it to family members or guests. “It is of utmost importance to make sure anyone with a compromised immune system, such as a senior or young child, does not eat food that is not properly cooked,” Cheryl notes.

Gina Roberts-Grey writes about family, parenting, health, senior and women’s issues for national and regional publications.
Grilling safety tips

  • Do not allow children near the grill and don’t leave them unattended around a grill.
  • Never pour lighter fluid on hot charcoal.
  • Store matches, lighter fluid and starters away from the barbecue grill
  • Never light a grill inside a garage, shed or home, or too close to any structure.
  • Do not drink alcohol while grilling. Alcohol and fire don’t mix.
  • Make sure pets are secured safely away from the grill.
  • Keep a BC-type fire extinguisher nearby when using a gas grill.