Tiny kitchen? Hate the mess? Strapped for time? You follow MyPlate to a T and manage to feed the whole family a rainbow of vegetables each night, but how many reasons can you come up with to leave the kids out of the actual meal prep? With proper planning and some creativity, cooking with kids can be fun, rewarding, and even a time saver.
As a service member in Guilford County, North Carolina, I am lucky to have the opportunity to grow, cook, and eat fresh food with kids year round (three cheers for North Carolina’s three growing seasons). I’ve prepared everything from fruit kebabs to French omelets with kids ages two through teen, and I’ve discovered the joy and ownership a child feels when he creates his own food.
Thanksgiving is an extra special meal to cook with kids because a) the menu features fresh veggies, herbs and spices that you can help your kids fall in love with, and b) with three days off from school, you’ll be begging for ways to keep the little ones busy.
Here are five ways to include the kids in your Thanksgiving meal prep this year:
1. Break out the mortar and pestle. Kids love smashing things, and this tool will keep kids of all ages engaged for just about ever. Use it to crush garlic and herbs or to grind fresh fall spices like cinnamon, cardamom and cloves for your pumpkin pie. Don’t have a mortar and pestle? Kids can also grate garlic and spices with a microplane.
2. Shake everything you can in a mason jar. Hand a kid a whisk and a bowl and you will end up with a sticky counter and extra utensils to clean. Shaking dressings, marinades and sauces in a mason jar is easy, efficient, and teaches kids the value of cooking without a recipe. Last year at Thanksgiving dinner, my family even used a mason jar to make our own butter during the meal.
3. Put the kids on peeler and grater duty. Kids will feel like professional chefs if you let them peel carrots, potatoes, or winter squash or if you let them grate citrus for garnish or desserts. Just make sure to keep an eye on the young ones – those little tools can make some big cuts.
4. Use kids scissors to cut herbs. Herbs make everything look, smell, and taste prettier, and most slice up beautifully with a pair of kids’ scissors. Designate a set of kids “kitchen shears” to stay in the knife drawer. Label them well so they don’t end up going back and forth from glue and pipe cleaners to rosemary and oregano.
5. Make place cards. Tiny gourds and tiny apples are in season and make great table decorations. Have your kids gather some colorful leaves (or buy some at a craft store), write your guests’ names on the leaves, and tie or pin them to some fall produce. The kids can set the table with plates and utensils and finish it off with their seating card artwork.