The Gift of Your Presence
Gingerbread men. Last year my 2-year-old helped me create a couple dozen sweet and spicy cookies to share with family and friends around the holidays. Eager and grinning from ear to ear, my daughter climbed up the step stool, helping me add in all the ingredients and mix up the cookie dough. We then used a rolling pin to roll it out, dusted our cookie cutters with flour and cut out festive shapes for baking. The giggles and memories far exceeded the temporary pleasure of eating the cookies.
It wasn’t the food – it was the experience. What a gift! It was something I gave my daughter, and myself, that couldn’t be bought.
The reality is those 2 hours of mess and laughter left a larger impression than I could have ever dreamed. Nostalgic food memories are powerful because they involve multiple senses – hearing, touching, tasting, sight, smell. Including your senses make these memories stand out among others.
The holiday season is a great time to invite your little ones into the kitchen to create a yummy treat and sow into their sweet, tender hearts. So often we compartmentalize life, making cooking or baking just another job to cross off our to-do list. However, these messy, fun experiences are really an opportunity to love on them, talk about Jesus and develop some really useful life skills.
Jesus, Curiosity & Carrots
On a practical level, exposing kids to a wide variety of foods and fun recipes is the best way to train them to become adventurous eaters. Every time you invite your kids to bake or cook with you, not only are you giving them the gift of quality time, you will be teaching math skills, empowering them with cooking knowledge, affirming their efforts and inspiring more curiosity around all types of food.
So how do you create a successful (i.e. fun!) cooking experience that doesn’t lead to whining or a floor covered in flour? Here are a few tips to help you train your enthusiastic helpers without losing your merry spirit.
Choose a Great Recipe
Smart parents know that kids’ attention span is short, especially young children, so choose a recipe that is fairly easy and includes a short ingredient list. These Oatmeal Date Balls have only 5 ingredients and are blended up in a food processor which makes them come together quickly. Your kids will be a pro at rolling the balls between their hands because what kid doesn’t like playing with their food?!
Create a Game Plan
Read through the recipe a couple of times so that you are familiar with the steps and processes. Think about what you can have your child do and what you will do so that you can clearly communicate as you are going.
Keep Rules Short & Simple
Kids need to know what is expected and how they can help before you begin. This reinforces safety for kids and sanity for parents. You might set the rule that they must wash hands before cooking and if they touch their hair, face or the ground. Another rule might be that they must listen for directions before acting. Don’t overburden kids with too many rules, but a few boundaries with identified consequences can help make the experience less chaotic and more enjoyable.
Embrace the Mess…
…It’s going to happen. Thinking through your recipe in advance can help minimize the mess, but the reality is that if you are teaching a child to crack an egg or measure a cup of flour, you can’t escape without a little extra cleanup. Just laugh, keep an extra towel handy and take a photo with #cookingfun!
Teach Rather Than Tell
Teachers have a unique ability to train kids to help them develop a skill. This process is all about empowering them with knowledge, allowing them to learn by doing, and helping them create muscle memory so that over time, they can perform these tasks with less coaching. Allow mistakes. Affirm progress – not perfection.
During a season when we sing about joy and cheer, it is easy to get caught up in the doing and embrace the spirit of bah humbug. But you don’t have to get sucked in. Decide upfront that this baking experience is going to be fun and filled with laughter. Resolve to rejoice. Turn on some fun music or share a favorite, funny memory from your own childhood, or talk about why Jesus means so much to you.
Sugary Treats During the Holidays
Remember that fun treats, during the holidays or any time of the year, don’t need to be overloaded with sugar and processed foods. Teach your kids how to make yummy foods that have quality, nourishing ingredients. These Chocolate Chip Blondie Bars are pretty amazing and use dates as the sweetener, and these Easy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies are made with super ripe mashed banana and sweet raisins.
As the parent, you determine the ingredients you buy, the recipes you make, and the health values you model. Eating healthy doesn’t mean no cookies. You get to define what ‘healthy’ means to you and your family.
So, what’s the play call?
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights (James 1:17 NIV). Your time, your attention, your laughter is a gift, a priceless gift to your kids. Combining that with some kitchen fun is a practical way to love on your little ones and develop useful skills. Give big just like God.
Now go grab a favorite recipe, turn on some Christmas tunes, and invite your kids into the kitchen. Your next favorite memory is waiting for you!