During the holidays, and particularly on days when snow forces school closures, it’s a good idea to have some activities up your sleeve to keep kids busy. And what better way to spend TV and computer-free time with them than in the kitchen? Thanksgiving is, after all, a holiday centered around food. Kids are inherently creative and very hands-on: they love to squeeze, roll, bash, stir, shake, knead and spread ingredients. The kitchen is a great place to explore their heightened senses – smell, touch, sight, sound, and of course taste. (They love to make a mess, so try to remember that it’s all a learning experience!) Instead of Thanksgiving worksheets or word searches, let them look at recipes, or give them markers and paper and let them write their own.
Here are a few fun and creative kitchen projects that will help kids learn about food and the basics of cooking while keeping them occupied. (Without computers, video games or TV!)
- take a trip to the library, stroll through the cookbook section and let the kids choose some new ones to take home. If you don’t want to leave the house, take some books from your cookbook shelf and flip through them instead of reading storybooks – let them choose a recipe or two to make for Thanksgiving dinner.
- let kids make vinaigrette for your salad – give them measuring spoons, a jar, and the oil, vinegar and spices. If they can read, let them follow a recipe, otherwise let them do it on their own. Small kids love screwing on the lid and shaking the jar to combine the ingredients, and of course it can be done anytime – vinaigrettes last for ages, so you can never have too much!
– when you’re out shopping, ask your kids for help selecting produce by squeezing, sniffing and feeling fruits and vegetables, and try to pick something you’ve never tried before. Introduce them to different varieties of foods by exploring Chinatown or the Italian market.
- mix of a batch of yeast dough – show them how yeast is alive and bubbles when you feed it, then let them stir, knead (with yeast dough there’s no worry about overkneading by little hands!) and let it rise. It’s the perfect balance of mixing, kneading, taking a break, then shaping and baking – your house will smell wonderful and you’ll have fresh bread or rolls at the end.
- teach them how to make pastry, letting them cut the butter into the flour with a form or pastry cutter (this is something I still remember my grandma teaching me) or let them whisk together the filling ingredients for an easy pumpkin pie.
- let them stir together a batch of icebox cookie dough to shape into a log, wrap in waxed paper or parchment and stash away in the freezer to slice and bake on Christmas eve for Santa.
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