As a prelude to making this recipe with your kids, read aloud Marcia Brown's STONE SOUP(Simon & Schuster Children's). It tells the story of three hungry soldiers who come into a village and cleverly trick the peasants into sharing their food--by making a lavish soup out of seemingly nothing but stones. Like the soldiers' soup, this recipe turns basically whatever vegetables you have on hand into a hearty meal. Our testers loved plopping a real stone into the broth, as we've described below, but if your pantry's low on stones, you can let the potatoes fill that role.
The first step is for your child to scrub and wash the stone thoroughly. Then, for an extra cleaning, she can drop it in a pot of water to boil while you prepare the rest of the soup together.
In another large pot, melt the butter or heat the oil, then sauté the onion on medium-high for 2 to 4 minutes. Stir in the celery, carrot, potatoes and red pepper, sautéing for 6 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for about 30 seconds, then add in the broth. Using a spoon, fish the stone out of the other pot, add it to the soup and bring to a boil. Add the zucchini, squash, corn and pasta, cooking another 8 minutes or until the zucchini is the desired softness. Season to taste with the salt and pepper. Before serving, sprinkle on the cheese and croutons, then ladle--minus the stone--into individual bowls. Serves 6 to 8.