You may not want to leave your eight-year-old in charge of roasting the Thanksgiving dinner turkey, but there are plenty of other ways to get your kids safely and meaningfully involved in the kitchen this holiday season. There are plenty of reasons to do so as well.
“Certainly you want to get kids involved in the kitchen and in shopping for food at a young age,” says Nancy Stohs, Food Editor at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Stohs’ daughters have been longtime Willy Street Co-op Owners.
“Studies show if kids help at any stage of the process they’ll be more likely to try foods and not close their narrow little minds to something unfamiliar,” Stohs says. “Holidays are exciting for kids and a great time to have them get involved.”
Dos and don’ts
Following are a few observations tips, dos, and don’ts from Stohs and others as you think about your holiday cooking plans:
We’re in Wisconsin—there better be a cheese platter
A cheese platter is a super easy way to get your kids involved in the kitchen, and in Madison there really is no excuse for not including a tasty mountain of cheese in your celebration of the local bounty.
The nicest thing about a cheese platter is that you don’thave to follow a recipe. You and your kids can put the platter together however you want. Here are some Co-op suggestions to get you started:
Serve cheese at room temperature. The cold from the refrigerator inhibits its flavor, so have your kids take the cheese out half an hour before guests arrive to allow it to “bloom.”
Provide a serving utensil for each variety of cheese on your tray.
Serve a selection of three to five contrasting cheeses. This is a fun and easy way to get your younger children involved. Ask them to consider different tastes, colors, and textures as you pick out your cheeses at the Co-op. Your kids might not have the most sophisticated tastebuds, but they can help make some of the easier pairing decisions by picking cheeses that are different colors or textures. Some basic pairing suggestions include pairing mild with robust (like Brie with blue cheese), fresh with aged (like Boursin with aged Gruyere), or soft with hard cheeses (like chevre with Parmesan).
Or create a themed tray by offering cheeses all from Wisconsin or even a specific cheesemaker, or showcase an array of cheeses made from different milks (cow, goat, sheep).
Several kid-friendly foods are perfect complements to cheese. These include:
Fresh and dried fruits
Crostini, flatbread, and other crackers
Hearty and crusty breads
To create an antipasto platter, include a mix of marinated vegetables and cured meats.
Picking out complementing foods is another fun way to get your kids involved in the shopping portion of your holiday preparations. The Co-op’s Produce, olive bar and Bulk departments are filled with fun stuff to sample with your kids. Also, take advantage of our Cheese department staff—they’re super knowledgeable on all matters cheese and cheese pairings.
And as long as you’re not too Type-A, letting your kids prepare the platter themselves is a good way to relieve some of the pressure on yourself if you’re hosting a holiday get-together. It’s an easy way to allow kids to be a little creative with their presentation styles as well. In the end, it’s cheese, crackers, and maybe some olives and fruit—even young kids can handle arranging it all on a platter.
Help your kids become interested with incentives and stories
Even two-year-olds, especially if they see older siblings getting involved, might want to help in the kitchen. If you’re nervous about the chaos that might cause, there are some simple ways to have your toddlers feel involved without having to get their hands, and your whole house, dirty.
First, make them one of the gang by putting an apron on them. They’ll either feel more official or think you’re all playing an elaborate game of house. Either way, they’ll probably have more fun than they would without an apron.
Also, find a short step stool or sturdy box for your toddler to stand on so they can observe what’s happening on the counters. You obviously won’t want them within arm’s reach of a hot stove or the counters, which can be a minefield of knives, raw food and glassware.
And if the kids do help with things, expect and welcome the mess.
“Don’t worry about the mess because there will be a mess,” Stohs says. “It will be fun. Try not to criticize them, and make the experience as positive as you can.”
You can involve the young ones further by telling them what you’re chopping or why you’re washing something. Ask them questions.
Telling stories works well too.
“Think about traditional recipes that have a story that go along with them, because kids love stories,” Stohs says. “Tell the story as you’re making the dish. If you make it every year, they’ll love connecting it to a story.”
Stohs also suggests finding photos of past holiday celebrations from your own childhood.
“Get those photos out and tell your stories,” she says. “That keepsthem interested.”
Divide and conquer
Break down recipes into manageable tasks. Most children younger than middle school age might not be able to bake a pie start to finish, but they can execute specific and important tasks with aplomb.
Many kids will love hand-mashing potatoes, cracking eggs and measuring anything out in measuring cups and spoons.
“Tasks that might seem mundane to us…kids love doing them,” Stohs said. “Think about things little kids like to do, like sorting. Maybe have them sort the ingredients before you start the recipe.” Stohs says to take a look at your recipes from the perspective of a child and consider what parts might be fun.
“Keep them busy with the simple tasks while you’re working on something more complicated, and they’ll still feel a part of it,” Stohs says.
Also, a lot of kids might grimace at having to “do the dishes” but they would also probably love playing in the sink. Have them wash produce and pre-rinse dishes that’ll end up in the dishwasher anyway.
If you have a picky eater, having them involved in the cooking process will likely help them take the leap to try a new dish. Either way, asking them to taste test will make them feel involved and like their opinion matters.
Other tasks, such as roasting vegetables, can be divided into adult and kid-friendly portions. The kids rinse the veggies, you chop them, and then they arrange them on the baking sheet, pour olive oil over them, grind some pepper, add salt and use their (washed!) hands to toss all the ingredients together for an even coat before you place the sheet in the oven.
Your kids can handle most mixing and measuring tasks. To make it more fun for them, give them a list of spices and other ingredients and rough measurements and have them concoct their “own” marinade, seasoning or rub. Have them name their concoction and use it (after making sureit actually tastes okay).
“Let them make some choices on their own,” Stohs says. “Maybe have them pick out an ingredient they want to use and find a recipe that uses it.”
The holidays are also a great time to include discussions about healthy foods.
“A lot of holiday recipes—especially baking recipes—are really sweet and call for lots of sugar,” Stohs says. “You can usually cut the sugar way down, which you can turn into a game with your kids. Ask them how much sugar they think you could get away with cutting from a recipe. Give them little health lessons and let them have some say in what your making.”
Following are some kid-friendly recipe ideas:
Stuffing in a Bundt Pan
The Bundt pans adds a bit of fun and anticipation to an otherwise blah stuffing recipe.
- Stuffing Recipe (a recipe that would fill a 9x13-inch baking dish)
- 4 large eggs
- non-stick baking spray with flour
- parsley for garnish
Directions: Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Prepare your stuffing according to recipe instructions. Then stir in 4 eggs until fully incorporated.
Thoroughly coat a 12-cup capacity bundt pan with non-stick baking spray. Fill the bundt pan with the stuffing mixture and press down to pack it in.
Bake the stuffing bundt for 30-40 minutes. Then cool for at least 25 minutes in the pan. Use a long narrow spatula to loosen the top edge of the stuffing from the Bundt pan. Don’t be afraid to stick the narrow spatula down the sides of the pan if needed. Then flip the stuffing Bundt out onto a platter or cake stand. Serve warm.
Gluten-free, Dairy-free stuffed acorn squash
A healthy and much easier alternative to a stuffed turkey.
- 2 acorn squash, halved lengthwise, seeds scooped out
- 8-12 oz. bulk sausage (I used breakfast sausage, but Italian or spicy would work)
- 1 c. rice, uncooked
- 2 stalks celery, sliced
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 c. chicken or veggie broth (I used chicken bone broth)
- 1/2 c. toasted almonds
- 1/2 c. dried cherries, apricots, or raisins
- 1/2-1 apple, diced
- olive oil
- salt and pepper, to taste
Directions: Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the cut squash. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place cut side down on a baking sheet. Roast at 400ºF for 20-45 minutes, or until edges are browned and squash is tender.
While the squash is roasting, heat a small drizzle of olive oil in a saucepan. Add onion, celery, and rice to the saucepan. Cook 2-3 minutes to let the rice get a bit of flavor. Pour in the broth. Cover the pan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and let steam for 10-15 minutes, or until broth is absorbed and rice is cooked through.
While the rice is cooking, cook sausage in a sauté pan until browned and cooked through. Drain any excess fat from the pan.
Fluff rice with a fork. Stir in almonds, cherries, apple, and sausage. When the squash is cooked through, divide the rice stuffing amongst the squash halves. Serve warm.
Slow cooker bread pudding
Slow cooker recipes are great for kids, as most require little more than dumping and mixing the ingredients into your slow cooker.
- 3 large eggs
- 1/2 c. light brown sugar, packed
- 1 tsp. nutmeg, ground
- 1 c. heavy cream
- 1 c. milk
- 1 1/4 tsp. of vanilla extract
- 1/4 c. butter, melted
- 1/2 c. raisins
- 1/2 c. butterscotch chips
- 1/2 c. pecans
- 2 Tbs. cinnamon
- 20 slices of wheat bread, 1 inch cubed
- 1/3 c. heavy cream
- 1 c sugar
- 1/2 c. butter
- 1.5 Tbs. rum (or other favorite liquor)
Directions: Spray slow cooker with cooking spray. Whisk eggs, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in bowl. Stir in milk, heavy cream,vanilla, and butter. Add bread cubes until moistened. Fold in butterscotch chips, raisins and pecans. Cook on low for 2 hours or until center is firm. Cover and let stand for 30 minutes. Serve warm with glaze or whipping cream.
For glaze, optional: Melt all ingredients except for rum, do not boil. Add rum. Pour over bread pudding slow cooker recipe.
Homemade Honey-Roasted Nuts
A healthier sweet and salty snack you just can’t get enough of!
- 3 c. of nuts
- 2 Tbs. butter or oil
- 3 Tbs. sweetener of your choice
- 1/2 tsp. kosher salt to taste
- 1/2 tsp. sugar to taste
Directions: Prepare a baking pan with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 325ºF. If using butter, melt it in a separate bowl or measuring cup and mix in your sweetener. Place your nuts in a bowl and pour sweetener mixture on top, mixing thoroughly. Spread them on the prepared baking pan and bake for 10 minutes. Remove them from the oven, stir, and bake them for 10 minutes more or until golden. Remove and immediately pour them into a bowl and stir or they will stick together in chunks. Toss nuts with salt and sugar to taste and allow them to cool completely before storing them in an airtight container.