Kids helping out in the kitchen can be a blessing and a curse. If you're tight on time or super focused on an important meal, directing children and supervising tiny fingers isn't helpful. However, when they want to help it's difficult to turn them away! Thanksgiving is the worst best time to be all together in the kitchen! I usually make my family clear out all together and then spend two days in the kitchen alone. I will allow one or two trusted adults into the kitchen if they can share the work load with me and not ask for directions or too much advice. Really, it's not a super family filled way to spend the holiday. So this year I want to try to involve my kids more. They are 11 and 15 so this should be no problem, right?
The question remains- How do you integrate your kids into the cooking traditions and not bring more stress on yourself? I don't know the answer. But here are a few ideas I want to try this year- I would also love to hear what you do to help your kids get involved!
Idea 1 Ambrosia Salad: This is a traditional side dish in our house, passed down from my husband's family. Kids love it, adults usually like it more than they want to admit. It's suuuuuuper sweet and not at all healthy. But it's a holiday and this dish is really easy for kids to mix up with minimal supervision. This is not an exact recipe. It's more about eyeballing ingredients. Begin the day before you want to eat this salad. In a large glass or plastic bowl combine 16 oz container of sour cream and about 1/2 a bag mini marshmallows and 1/2 bag of shredded coconut. (You could use unsweetened coconut but why?) Mix well and cover the bowl (with plastic wrap or a lid or whatever you use to cover things.) Refrigerate overnight to allow the marshmallow and coconut to sweeten the sour cream. Just before serving open and drain 1 can of pineapple tidbits, 2 can of mandarin oranges. Stir into the marshmallow/coconut/sour cream. If you want you can drain a small jar of maraschino cherries and add those too.
Idea 2 Rhodes Bake and Serve rolls: Do you make dinner rolls from scratch for Thanksgiving dinner? If you do, I applaud you. You are a true hero. I use my mom's famous recipe. Frozen dinner rolls from Rhodes. This is a great short cut and you can leave it (almost) entirely up to your child, even a pretty young one- Here's what you do. Check the packaging of the rolls to make sure you leave plenty of time for the dough to rise. Spray a muffin tin with cooking spray or rub the inside of each cup with butter or shortening. Open a bag of Rhodes Bake and Serve rolls. Drop 2 frozen dough balls in each muffin cup. Lightly spray a bit of plastic wrap, cover the rolls and place in a nice warm spot. Let the rolls rise- Bake according to instructions. Many kids could do all of this except maybe the oven part.
Idea 3 Potatoes: My first suggestion is make sure your peeler is a good one- while a sub-par peeler is a nuisance for grown up hands, you might find yourself saying "Here just let me do it!" as you watch your poor little kids struggle with a peeler that snags and stutters along a bumpy potato. At my house we really make a lot of potatoes so 2 or 3 or 4 people all peeling potatoes together is a great idea. If you're peeling together and you have a kids who has some good knife experience, you can cut together too. That way you can keep 1/2 to 1 eye on the tiny fingers and 1 1/2 to 1 eye on your own fingers while you cube potatoes. Remember, they need to be about the same size to cook evenly, but you're about to smash them into bits. They don't have to be pretty. And then your little chef can help with the mashing part, however you choose to mash. I like a potato ricer (as stated yesterday). That can be a 2 person job if your bowl needs steadying. My mom whips her potatoes with a hand mixer. Many kids can take on that job. If you're a hand masher with that wavy thing, kids can help with that too.
Idea 4 Snapping Green Beans: I love to make green beans with shallots, bacon and almonds as a Thanksgiving side. While I am frying up bacon and shallots I can ask one of my kids to snap off the ends of the green beans. Easy, requires no equipment, they can do this while I am facing the other way- no fingers at risk here.
Idea 5 Decorating (aka setting the table): When my kids ask if they can help me and I say "Yes! You can set the table! That would be such a great help!" they get really annoyed. So what if I call it 'decorating'? Will that fool them? It could include making hand turkey place markers or maybe balloons and streamers? I'm not too sure right now, but the kitchen and dining room in my house are open and so we would all be together while this is going on. And that's the point! Get us together without annoying, well, me. I was going to say each other. But really I am interested in how I can have them with me but not annoy me. Is this going to work? I'll let you know!