Thanksgiving will be here before we know it, and for many that means the frenzy of grocery shopping, recipe hunting, and hours in the kitchen. One way to ease the seasonal stress is to enlist some family help. Cooking with your kids can provide wonderful life lessons in addition to family bonding. It is a wonderful time to engage children and begin to teach them those family recipes you hope get passed down through generations. Also, if your kids aren’t fans of a traditional Thanksgiving feast, you may get more buy-in from them to try new foods if they have helped to prepare them. Here are a few tips.
Thanksgiving is a big meal to prepare, so my greatest advice is to be patient. Yes, it will be quicker and easier to do it yourself, but where’s the fun in that? Those first few times when they are learning to chop, slice, or painstakingly measure just the right amount can be frustrating, but remember they will never learn if we don’t let them try on their own. Also, the more you let them help, the faster they will get.
Start your meal prep a few days early. Involve them in the whole process: If they want to mix up the menu and try something new, let them help you shop so they can learn about the different ingredients and choosing produce, and then let them help with actually preparing and cooking the meal.
When you start to feel frustrated, remember you would rather have them engaged and helping you than sitting in front of the TV or their iPads. Think also of all the life lessons they can learn from the experience: Cooking is a great way to work on listening skills and following directions; for younger ones, pouring and stirring help with fine motor skills; for older children, there is math in measuring, reading comprehension in following a recipe, and science as they learn about where our food comes from.
BE PREPARED: MESS HAPPENS
It will get messy, ingredients will spill, and your kitchen will likely look like a bomb went off, but I guarantee it will be fun. Have a broom and cleaning supplies on hand and don’t forget to throw an apron on everyone as well. Kids as well as grown-ups love to look the part.
Get all the ingredients and equipment out before you begin so you aren’t running around looking for things while your child is unsupervised and eager to help. Kids don’t want to watch, they want to help, so give them tasks they can do on their own. For younger children, this could be picking herbs off a stem or pouring dry ingredients into a bowl. For older children, it could be making a salad dressing and beating eggs — those are hard to mess up. The busier they are, the less time they will have to discover what happens with a fistful of flour.
The most important part of making this an enjoyable experience is to make sure no one gets hurt, so safety is key.
- Make sure everyone has washed their hands before and after cooking. Explain how this relates to food safety and why it is important.
- Clean as you go to avoid spills or falls, but also just to keep things organized; plus, who doesn’t like a clean kitchen at the end?
- Ask before you lick. This is an important part of food safety so your kids don’t consume raw ingredients that could make them sick.
- When working near the stove make sure pot and pan handles are turned in and away to avoid hot spills.
- For children not tall enough to reach the countertops, provide a step stool for a good position. They love to have their own spot, and it is much safer than sitting on the countertops.
- When it comes to working with knives, this is a parent’s preference. We started with plastic knives but have upgraded to a kid knife set. Two of my favorites are the Curious Chef three-piece knife set and the Wusthof gourmet knife set, both on Amazon or at any cooking store such as Sur La Table or Williams-Sonoma.
My favorite part of cooking with my kids is the pride on their faces when eating something they cooked and can share with family members. Lots of positive feedback and encouragement will definitely encourage them to want to help even more next time. Whether it is for your Thanksgiving meal or just a random weekend, cooking with our kids has so many benefits, including nourishing our bodies and making precious memories. It also goes a long way to improving their nutrition and health. What more could you want?