Spending time in the kitchen with your children, grandchildren or the neighborhood children you know is a perfect way to instill some of the most important traditions of the holidays.
Sharing time with family and friends, creating a sense of purpose and place by preparing foods that our grandparents prepared, using recipes our immigrant ancestors might have carried to America generations ago, and making gifts and sharing them with the people we care about are all important lessons to teach children during the holiday season.
It’s true that we remember special presents and colorful decorations; but, we also remember sitting around the kitchen table cracking pecans for Mom to put in the homemade fudge and decorating stacks of cut-out sugar cookies. We remember extended families crowding around dining tables laden with more food than we could possibly eat in one meal. Those are the memories that stay with us because those memories generate feelings of that comfortable embrace of family, past and present, as we reminisce.
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This is the time of year to invite those little hands into the kitchen!
Take time to determine the most appropriate recipes to work with. If your children enjoy working with molding clay and play dough, they are going to enjoy rolling cooking dough into balls and ropes. If they like to paint with brushes or their fingers, they’ll enjoy spreading icing on sugar cookies. If they love working with glue, glitter and stickers, they’ll enjoy decorating baked goods with colorful sugars and candy sprinkles. Engage your children in the task of cooking by turning their favorite playtime into kitchen time.
Always consider their attention span. If they work on art projects for 30 minutes at a time, don’t expect to get them to focus on a full afternoon of baking. Older children usually have no problem doing a variety of cooking projects throughout the day, but our youngest cooks need simple projects. Limit their cut-out cookies to one shape. A big stack of snowmen-shaped cookies decorated in their unique ways is probably all they need to try to complete. If their assigned project seems overwhelming at the start, they will quickly lose interest. Don’t spoil this special time with outrageous expectations.
Make sure you do your part in the kitchen. Don’t let the sheets of cookies burn in the oven because children will feel responsible for that failure. If the mixer spins out of control and slings frosting all over the wall, just clean it up and instruct them again about adjusting the settings. You want to make wonderful memories, not kitchen catastrophes! Not all cooking needs to be baking. Assembling a topiary tree covered with fresh fruits is easy to do. All you need is fresh fruit, a Styrofoam tree form and wooden cocktail picks. This becomes a beautiful centerpiece for a holiday table and can then serve as dessert.
Be prepared to praise the end product, no matter what it looks like. Take pictures and tell your children what is beautiful and meaningful about everything they do in the kitchen. Prove that you are being honest and share their magnificent creations as gifts for your family, friends and neighbors. Let the children finish the gift by making a special card or note to include.