Thursday, November 15, 2012

Cooking with Kids for Thanksgiving

Just the word conjures up a cuddly and warm image of a family by the fire: Thanksgiving.  Just sit and imagine with me-- a couple of generations, some friends, a slight chill, some dogs at our feet, the smell of a turkey roasting, maybe John Madden announcing some football at a low volume in the background...

But then I think a bit longer and I remember the restless children pestering each other, the stress of getting the meal done and the the table set, running to the store for one more thing, and being stuck inside because of the cold.  Let's not forget the wishing we were in our maternity jeans after the meal and feeling bloated and like maybe we shouldn't have tried both kinds of pies after appetizers, wine, and a full meal.  Ahhhh- the holidays.

Don't get me wrong: I love me a good holiday meal as much as anyone.  It is the time leading up to the meal where I get a bit antsy.  And my progeny don't seem to fall that far from the tree (imagine that).

BUT-- involving the kids can be one strategy for making the day run a bit smoother.  One of my favorites is to just get them doing what I am doing.  So- in this case, it's cooking.  Making sure your baby is using a blunt knife and the older kids are using age-appropriate cutlery, here are some ideas:
  1. Have the baby bring you various items (like specific veggies from the fridge or a nice cold beer).
  2. Have your older child open the beer or wine (not kidding).  They can also open cans, and will-- with gusto.
  3. Have your toddler sort things (like beans into muffin tins or the cloth napkins by color).
  4. Have the toddler (on up) set the table.  Make it intricate with flowers or acorns, and have them sort them by place setting.
  5. Get the preschooler to cut the potatoes in half.  S/he can also paint them (and other roasted veggies) with olive oil and sprinkle with salt (that you have already measured. Trust me on this one).  If you prefer the shake and bake method (i.e. putting the potatoes into a container with a lid and shaking the seasonings and oil), you have just the person for the shaking.
  6. Have your child sample the foods.  We actually call it sampling at our place and talk about the Farmer's Market and Trader Joe's sample sizes.
  7. Have your child measure for baking and turn the food processor or mixer on.  Have them crack the eggs.  If you are anxious about the shells in the food, do it in a separate bowl first.
  8. My 4-year old LOVES using the coffee grinder for nuts.  Sometimes I think of recipes that need chopped nuts (or almond flour) just so he can use it.  Our favorites include an almond flour crust galette (similar to this but no sugar) or beet brownies.
  9. Have them make the whipped cream.  All it takes to make it fresh is full cream (we use organic raw) and a drop of honey and a teaspoon of vanilla, both added towards the end).  We whip them in the electric mixer on high until they are "stiff peaks."  Have them test it-- preferably with a fresh strawberry or other fruit...
  10. Have your child poke the holes in the pumpkin before you make pie.  First time using a fresh pumpkin instead of a can?  Here's the recipe: Poke holes in a fresh pumpkin (enough to let the steam escape so it won't explode).  Place it in a glass baking dish with an inch of water.  Bake at 350 for an hour, or until soft.  Cut it open and remove the seeds.  Scrape the flesh out and use this as you would use canned pumpkin.  One small pie pumpkin should yield 2 cups or so of mashed pumpkin.
  11. Have the baby (on up) rip the bread into small pieces for the stuffing.
  12. They could also break the ends off the asparagus or green beans.
No matter what task you have them help you with, it is always more fun to do it together.  Yes, it takes longer and is messier, but it is time and energy well spent, and in the spirit of the holidays!

Happy Holidays! Enjoy!!
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