How kids can help with Christmas food
There’s always a lot to do in the kitchen if you are hosting Christmas for family and friends or even if it is just yourselves. The seemingly easy option at this time of year is to keep the kids out of the way so we can just get on with it without the hassle. However if we do this we are missing a brilliant opportunity to get our kids of all ages involved.
Why get kids to help?
There are lots of reasons why we should get the kids to help us preparing for Christmas and these include;
- improving their cooking skills and confidence in the kitchen
- patience in this modern world of instant gratification – learning that things take time and good things come to those who wait
- reading, writing and comprehension
- organisational and planning skills
- traditions and culture
- giving them an immense sense of pride and satisfaction when people complement them on ‘their’ mince pies or ‘their’ gravy
- develop their creativity skills
Probably most importantly though is it will all be about spending quality time together and having fun.
Obviously, how old they are and how much they help already will dictate exactly what they can do so you can make a judgement on this as you go. The chances are, whatever age, they are they will surprise you given the right support and level of independence.
So what can they help with and how do you make it harmonious and stress free (as possible!). We’ve also included links to some tried and tested family-friendly recipes to get you started.
Cakes, puddings and pies
Mid to late November or early December is the time to make the Christmas cake and Christmas puddings. Get the kids weighing things out, mixing and transferring into bowls.
Once the Christmas cake is baked it will need decorating and they will absolutely love helping out with this!
It’s not all Christmas cake though, there are loads of other things they can help to make, or as they get older, make on their own. Our kids have been making these easy mince pies, Lebkuchen German Christmas biscuits and trifle all by themselves since they were about 7. In the past when they were younger we helped with the oven, though now they are 11 and 13 they can do that themselves.
Deciding what to serve and making the shopping list
Our Christmas food shopping list usually runs into a few sheets of A4 and and we always get the kids to help us with it – for a starter their handwriting is much neater and more legible than mine.
Firstly we sit down with our favourite cookbooks, websites and Christmas TV programmes to decide what exactly we are going to cook this year. There are staples like roast potatoes, ham (we have our smoked ham cold for breakfast with HP sauce – a tradition from my family Christmases as a child) and turkey but we like to experiment with different side dishes, starters, snacks etc.
Maths can come into play here as the ingredients will need to be multiplied up if you are doubling or tripling the portions, depending on how many people are coming to dinner.
Once we’ve got our list of dishes we get the kids to write out the list for us, helping with their writing skills. Being project managers and analysts ourselves we do like order so we get the kids to write the lists with the items grouped together such as fruit, vegetables, meat, cold items and so on helping with their organisational skills. Yes, this might sound sad, but it makes things an awful lot easier when you are wheeling the trolly around the isles of the supermarket having everything together!
The children can also come with you to the supermarket to be the keeper of the list, directing you and marking things off as they are put in the trolly. They absolutely love the responsibility and bossing you about even more so. I know kids can be a real pain in the supermarket but if they have something to occupy them they will be no trouble at all.
Christmas eve preparations
For me, a successful Christmas dinner is all about being prepared and making sure that Christmas day isn’t only about cooking. Therefore a good proportion of Christmas Eve is spent getting things ready for the big day.
Again, this is another excellent time to get the kids involved. So we all get into the kitchen, turn the Christmas music on – ‘Christmas with the Rat Pack’ being our go to album – and get to work.
The kids love making the stuffing and also preparing the turkey, particularly helpful as their small hands are perfect for putting the flavoured butter between the skin and the meat. This gives them experience in preparing different types of food and also gives a good opportunity to learn about hygiene, particularly handling raw meat.
They also help prepare the veg and their absolute favourite which is wrapping the bacon around the chipolatas to make the pigs in blankets.
One other thing that we do in the Saucepan Kids household is to make the pizza dough and sauce for our traditional St. Stephen’s (Boxing) day dinner. We have everyone around again on St. Stephen’s day for pizza using the leftover turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce.
So on Christmas Eve the kids make and freeze the dough and pizza sauce. Then on St. Stephen’s day it’s just a case of having everyone roll out their pizza and add their festive toppings. This is nice and easy for the Christmas day chef, uses leftovers and is really social as everyone is in the kitchen with a drink and getting stuck in and having fun. Often guests might not cook at home so this is a rare, and enjoyable event in the kitchen for them.
Planning and cooking dinner
The big day has arrived and you want everything to go like clockwork. One of the major causes of anxiety is trying to time all of the cooking so everything is ready at the right time. To solve this we make a plan (project managers remember) – actually, we get the kids to make the plan.
This is brilliant for their maths and learning about time. They have to work out how long the turkey will take to cook based on its weight and then, let’s say we want to eat at 5 and the turkey needs to rest for at least 30 minutes, what time should we put it in the oven? Then add in the other ingredients and their timings and you have a timeline -maybe we’ll try a Gantt chart this year 🙂
They can then keep an eye on the plan for you and make sure you are sticking to it – as before, they love the importance and responsibility. Even just having someone read out what needs to be done next is a great help when you are in the thick of it.
Depending on ages they can also help during the cooking – stirring the gravy so you can get on with something else, getting the snacks out and taking them around to guests and preparing the starters.
Of course all of this help deserves a reward so make sure you give them tastes of the food as it’s cooking. Our kids’ favourite is a bit of skin from the turkey when it comes out of the oven – chef’s privilege they like to call it and it makes them feel really special.
Laying the table
Why not get the kids to help organise the dinner table? They can plan who sits where and make Christmassy name tags (we did elf shoes last year) which people can bring home as a memento.
They can put out the crackers, usually shaking them so they can try and guess what’s in them, and distribute the party poppers. You can also give them a bell and they can announce that dinner is ready and bring everyone through to the table.
Allow the kids to take responsibility for assembling the cheeseboard maybe designing a fun festive Christmas Tree out of cheese, grapes and herbs. It’s a great way to get them comfortable using knives (cutting the cheese into cubes) and also laying out the tree shape.
Enjoy the time
Of course Christmas day has plenty of excitement and distractions for kids and they need time to play with Santa’s presents and family who they might not have seen for a long time – so it’s all about getting a balance between playing and helping out.
However through helping out they will learn lots, feel special and you will have a lots of fun and a lovely time together which is what Christmas is all about isn’t it?
Just make sure you thank them for all their help in a toast before dinner and see their faces beaming with pride.
How do you get your kids to help out in the run up to Christmas?