Thanksgiving dinner can be one of the most stressful meals of the year, so the idea of having your child help cook it might sound a little crazy. On the other hand, cooking with your child is a great way to make memories and teach valuable skills – and it may even take off some of the pressure of slaving over a hot stove all on your own to prepare your feast. Of course, no one is suggesting your child cook the turkey, but there are plenty of ways kids can help in the kitchen.
In HelloJoey’s “You & Your Lil’ Sous Chef,” we explain how to support your child as they learn to cook by picking tasks that match their developmental abilities. To help you get started, we’ve come up with four easy and fun Thanksgiving recipes that get kids involved in preparing your meal. As a bonus, most of them can be made or prepped in advance and require little or no baking, leaving your oven – and a little more of your time – free on the big day.
TURKEY TAILFEATHER VEGGIE & DIP PLATTER
Since this recipe doesn’t involve any actual cooking, it’s a great way to ease your child into the kitchen and help them start feeling comfortable preparing food. If your kiddo isn’t quite ready to handle a knife, just skip to step 2.
STEP 1: If your child has (or is ready to learn) basic chopping skills, help them to cut an assortment of vegetables into sticks or strips. Great options include:
Red, yellow, orange, and green bell peppers
Zucchini or yellow squash
STEP 2: Get a large serving plate or platter, and place a bowl of ranch dip (or another dip of your choice) on the bottom edge. Then, let your child arrange the sliced vegetables into a fan of turkey feathers on the platter, shaping the fan around the top edge of the dip bowl.
STEP 3: Complete your “turkey” by making the bird’s head from a slice of orange or red bell pepper, a cherry tomato, or piece of yellow squash. Place the head along the top edge of the dip bowl, and plunge two carrot slices into the dip near the bottom edge of the bowl for legs.
Forget cranberry from a can. This kid-friendly Thanksgiving recipe tastes a lot better, and your child can help every step of the way. Plus, they’ll love how the fresh cranberries explode with a satisfying “pop” as they cook. You’ll need:
½ cup fresh orange juice (from one orange)
½ cup water
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
a 12 oz bag of fresh or frozen cranberries
Zest of one orange (about 2 teaspoons)
Start by having your child help juice and zest the orange. Then, combine the juice, water, and sugar in a pan and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Add the cranberries, orange zest, and salt, and let the mixture boil again. Reduce the heat, and boil gently for about 10 minutes, letting all the cranberries burst. Serve it hot or cold with your meal – and delight your kid by serving leftovers over ice cream!
STUFFED SQUASH MAYFLOWER SHIPS
Up your Thanksgiving vegetable game with hearty stuffed squash Mayflower ships. First, shop with your kid and pick out some winter squash to set sail on your Thanksgiving table. Go big with traditional butternut or acorn squash, make smaller boats with Delicata and sweet dumpling squash, or try something new – like festive kabocha with its warm, orange-colored flesh.
To make your ships, cut each squash in half through the stem and have your child remove all the seeds and pulp and then rub a little olive oil and salt all over each piece. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with foil or parchment, place the squash cut side down, and bake it for 30 to 45 minutes until the flesh is soft.
While the squash is cooking, make your stuffing. Let your child help you decide what to include from some combination of:
Prepared rice, quinoa, or bread crumbs
Ground beef or sausage
Diced veggies – like carrots, mushrooms, and peppers
Herbs or spices that your family enjoys
Egg (beaten to help bind the mixture)
Shredded cheese (any variety is fine)
Combine the stuffing ingredients and season the mixture to taste. When the squash is done baking and is cool enough to handle, help your child spoon the mixture into each “boat.” Sprinkle with cheese, and bake the squash for 15 minutes until the stuffing is crispy and golden.
Finish your Mayflowers by cutting a few pieces of paper into triangles or quadrilaterals and letting your child decorate them. Spear a mast into each piece of squash using a skewer – and bring a boatful of deliciousness to your feast!
PUMPKIN PIE WAFFLE CAKE
Not all kids love pumpkin pie, but they’ll love helping you make this creative Pumpkin Pie Waffle Cake! Start by preparing a batch of pumpkin waffles by sprucing up your favorite baking mix or making them from scratch. Your child can help gather and mix the ingredients and may be able to pour the batter into the waffle iron with a little supervision. Cool the waffles on a baking rack so they don’t get soggy. You’ll need five waffles for each “cake.”
Next, whip up a batch of maple frosting by mixing these ingredients until fluffy:
½ cup (1 stick) butter – softened
4 oz cream cheese (1/2 “brick”) – softened
1 tsp maple extract or syrup
1 ½ cup powdered sugar
To make your cake, smear each waffle with a thick layer of maple frosting and place them in a stack, one on top of the other. (If you’re working with square waffles, rotate each waffle slightly as you stack to give your cake a “rounder” shape.) Chill the cake for 1 to 2 hours.
Just before serving, make the butter pecan glaze. In a pan, combine:
¼ cup butter
½ cup packed brown sugar
½ cup chopped pecans
Place the pan over medium heat and stir the glaze occasionally until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved. Dump the mixture over your cake and ta-da! Dessert is served.
Just being in the kitchen helps kids build muscle memory in the same way that listening to a foreign language builds fluency – so invite your little ones to watch or help you cook as early as possible. Even toddlers can mash potatoes or pour water, and you’ll be helping to prepare them to tackle bigger tasks as they grow.
“Cooking is a confidence builder,” says dietician Gretchen Flanagan. “If we can get them involved from an early age – carrying things to the set the table or actually chopping and cooking at the stove – we're building their confidence and encouraging them to take part in keeping their bodies healthy.”
Want to learn more about “You & Your Lil’ Sous Chef” and how to get your kid involved in the kitchen? Start your path to a solid parenting foundation in just 10 minutes a day. Check out the HelloJoey app.