Holiday cooking projects for children are not only fun, but are a great way to create tradition and develop useful skills.

BY Nicole Crawford

The holidays are right around the corner, and for many people that means an extra dose of family time and food. If your children are anything like mine, they might want to help when they see you getting ready to whip up a batch of holiday treats. While I appreciate their eagerness and enthusiasm, I’ll be completely honest — sometimes I want to just cook by myself. It’s quicker, quieter and usually less messy, a welcome moment of zen during the holiday rush.

Nevertheless, I still want my kids to love food and cooking. Studies have shown children who spend time cooking tend to have healthier eating habits. And in my own experience, children are much more likely to be open to new foods if they are familiar with the cooking process and various ingredients that go into their meals. So instead of banning my kids from the kitchen, I’ve learned to give them their own cooking projects to work on, especially during the holiday season.

The key to raising successful child chefs and minimizing stress and messes is to remember where they are. Cooking is a great way for kids to hone the developmental skills they are working on at a given age. Consider ways you can tailor the experience to the developmental stage your child is in. For us adults, “gourmet” means prime cuts of meat that are meticulously prepared. For a 3-year-old, it just means something pretty and tasty. Kids are great at keeping it simple.

I have an 8-year-old, 5-year-old and 3-year-old at home right now (and a 4-month-old, but his taste is pretty simple). Each child has a different set of skills, interests and patience levels, so the recipes I choose to prepare will differ based on their age and abilities. For example:

1-2 Years:
At this hands-on age, kids are driven by their sense of touch and smell. Use ingredients they can touch, or let them mix dough by hand. When my kids are younger, I also let them smell various spices and ingredients to expose them to different smells. It sounds crazy, but they love it.

Fun cooking projects for kids of this age group:
(Note: To minimize the safety requirements, prepare recipes
that are chilled or don’t require cooking.)
• No-bake spiced cookies (cut them out with cookie cutters)
• Sliced apples topped with nut butter and crushed peppermints
• Holiday ice cream sundaes

3-5 Years:
Encourage your child to start measuring with assistance at this age, but let their creativity come out by using sprinkles, icing, cookie cutters and other fun props. Help reiterate concepts like counting and simple addition as you combine ingredients to give them real-life application of what they’re learning in school.

Fun cooking projects for kids of this age group:
• Cookie cutter sugar cookies decorated with sprinkles
• Gingerbread house kits
• Peppermint hot chocolate with whipped cream and
holiday sprinkles
• Cookie cutter pancakes decorated with strawberry jam, green
sprinkles and whipped cream

6-8 Years:
At this age, kids become more interested in the technical aspects of cooking, like weighing, measuring and timing. I bought my oldest daughter her own set of cooking supplies at the dollar store, and she keeps them in a special spot so she can prepare simple dishes like oatmeal, hot buttered toast, basic cookies and yogurt parfaits for herself and her siblings (and maybe her parents, too).

Fun cooking projects for kids of this age group:
• Homemade gingerbread house (help them make the
gingerbread themselves)
• Simple holiday cookies (Joy of Cooking has some great basic recipes)
• Paleo fudge

8 and up:
For older children, a cooking class might be a fun way to introduce more advanced concepts and learn together. Several local venues offer cooking classes for kids, including the following:
• Young Chef’s Academy
• Central Market Cooking School
• H-E-B Buddy Cooking Classes
• Junior Chef Classes at Williams Sonoma

I love holiday cookie parties as much as anyone else, but the extra cooking does become challenging when you have kids underfoot. Cooking together can be great bonding time your kids will always remember. Just don’t forget, simplicity is key. Enjoy your time in the kitchen, and happy holidays!

*For a delicious and nutritious Paleo Fudge recipe, pick up your copy of San Antonio Woman today!