Cheddar cheese plus finger foods equals a happy child. Fondue is your toddler's or preschooler's dream meal, and you won't mind digging into it either. The dish has some inherent dangers -- those sticks are awfully pointed, and a meal that requires a lit heating element is tricky around kids -- but with some safety precautions and a host of dippers that your kiddo will like, cheddar cheese fondue will soon become a family classic.
Your little one can't yet be trusted to feed a pet without someone getting hurt, so she doesn't need to be darting hungry fingers out toward a fondue pot heated over an open flame. When you're prepping cheesy fondue for a kiddo, you have a few options. You might prepare the dip in a small crock pot. The cheese will stay melted throughout the meal, but your child can't burn herself on an exposed heating unit. Make sure your crock pot has a cool-touch exterior and teach your child that she's not to touch the crock pot without your supervision before letting her near it. You might also make the fondue in a saucepan on the stove and serve a small cup to each person, but you'll have to reheat the dish before serving seconds since it will start to congeal as it cools.
You'll feel like Julia Child when you tell friends you prepared fondue, but you need only have the culinary skills of a school lunch lady to make it. Dice the cheddar or run it through a cheese grater. The smaller the cheese pieces, the faster they'll melt. Dust several cups of shredded cheese with a few teaspoons of either flour or cornstarch and toss the cheddar so the powder is evenly distributed. Fire up your crock pot or saucepan over very low heat and pour in a cup of chicken or vegetable broth. Let the broth heat until it starts to bubble, and start mixing in the cheese one handful at a time, stirring after each addition until the cheese is all melted. Grate and add more cheese if the fondue is too thin, or add broth if it's too thick. Season the fondue with salt and pepper.
Salty broth and creamy cheese is a nearly perfect flavor combination, but it's not the most exciting of culinary creations. If your kiddo is willing to branch out beyond basic cheddar, mix some flavors into the fondue that he'll like. Add Swiss or Gruyere cheese and a pinch of ground nutmeg for a still tasty, but slightly more grown-up fondue, or add some smooth tomato sauce and a handful of Parmesan for a dip that's reminiscent of pizza. Rub the fondue pot with sliced garlic before adding ingredients and stir a pinch of dry mustard into the finished dip if your kiddo doesn't mind adult flavors. For a slightly chunkier fondue, add cooked and finely diced broccoli, mushrooms or caramelized onions to the pot at the end of cooking.
Handing your rambunctious little one a long pointed fork and letting her loose will almost certainly end with you rummaging through the first-aid kid. If you opt to let your child use a fondue fork, you be in charge of loading each dipper onto the pointed end, and give her guidance like, "Eating right off this kind of fork is not safe. Pull each piece of food off the fork and eat it with your hands instead!" Make sure the fondue is warm but not hot before letting her touch it. If you serve her a small bowl of warm fondue, she can use her hands to dunk dippers right into the cheese. In addition to the traditional dippers, like chunks of bread and veggie slices, try serving apple slices to dip into a basic cheese fondue, or serve cooked potato wedges, cooked ravioli or tortellini, cubed pieces of cooked chicken and spears of broccoli to dunk into the cheese.
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