Little Helpers in the Holiday Kitchen

From Lisa Barnes

The holiday season is a wonderful opportunity to allow your children to help with the meal preparation and offers quality time together as a family. This is a way to keep your children occupied, but is also a fun, educational activity that incorporates a range of skills and senses, such as counting, measuring, reading, touching, listening, planning, smelling, tasting, and creativity. Baking teaches children useful skills and also makes them aware of potential hazards in the kitchen.  Helping in the kitchen can increase confidence, as well as encourage children to try a broader range of foods. Children are more likely to try a new recipe if they have helped in the preparation of the meal.

First decide what you will be making and determine how you want the children to participate.  Ask your child what he would like to make and his favorite holiday foods when menu planning, so he wants to participate and feel included.  If following a recipe be sure to read it thoroughly and have all necessary ingredients on hand before starting.

Take your child to the store or farmer’s market to purchase ingredients.

Once in the kitchen task allocation depends largely on the age and dexterity of the child, but there are some basic rules and tips that will make the process as safe and hassle-free as possible, remembering that children learn by observing and imitating adults.

Basic Rules and Tips

·Teach children the basics of hygiene (e.g., washing hands) before beginning food preparation, and also between stages, to avoid cross-contamination.

·Always explain the potential dangers in the kitchen and the protocol for safety. Such dangers include sharp knives, hot stoves and ovens, pans of boiling liquids and invisible germs.

·To save time and small children’s frustration, be sure to cut and measure ingredients before the child begins to assist. Small children have short attention spans and may become impatient waiting to “dump” ingredients in a bowl.

·Give children quick, simple instructions, one at a time, and be prepared to repeat them if they do not understand or forget what they have been told.

·Older children can be encouraged to read the recipe and help to measure out or weigh the ingredients.

·Younger children can be involved in the mixing process by placing the ingredients in a jar with a secure lid and letting them shake the contents. This works particularly well with batters and salad dressings.  Also a large oversized deep bowl can be handy when children are helping.

·All ages can help with frosting and decorating holiday cookies or cupcakes.  Decoration ideas include: colored sugars, cookie cutters, frosting, icing, edible flowers, dried fruits, nuts, etc…

·Younger children who are not yet able to help with the real food preparation can still participate in the kitchen by watching you and imitating through play with plastic bowls, wooden spoons, and rubber spatulas.

·Encourage children to be involved in the cleaning-up process during and after the cooking session is completed.

·For children interested in meal creativity with decoration, let them create interesting centerpieces, name cards or placemats.  Provide children with paper, and crayons or paints to create personalized place mats for each family member and dinner guest.  Take kids on a walk to gather the makings of a “green” centerpiece of pinecones, leaves, pods, and acorns.

Adults make a mess when they are creating in the kitchen, so expect children to have even more mishaps and build in enough time for mistakes and clean-up.

Remember to remain calm and have a sense of adventure and humor!  It doesn’t all need to be perfect – just have fun with your kids.
See also Crunchy Frozen Organic Bananas For Kids Recipe
Lisa Barnes is author of The Petit Appetit Cookbook: Easy, Organic Recipes to Nurture Your Baby and Toddler, Williams-Sonoma: Cooking For Baby, and lives in Sausalito, California.
Image Credit: © Hallgerd | |

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