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Little Helpers in the Holiday Kitchen

The holiday season is a wonderful opportunity to allow your children to help with the meal preparation and offers quality time together as a family. This is a way to keep your children occupied, but is also a fun, educational activity that incorporates a range of skills and senses, such as counting, measuring, reading, touching, listening, planning, smelling, tasting, and creativity. Baking teaches children useful skills and also makes them aware of potential hazards in the kitchen. Helping in the kitchen can increase confidence, as well as encourage children to try a broader range of foods. Children are more likely to try a new recipe if they have helped in the preparation of the meal. Task allocation depends largely on the age and dexterity of the child, but there are some basic rules and tips that will make the process as safe and hassle-free as possible, remembering that children learn by observing and imitating adults. Basic Rules and Tips:

? Teach children the basics of hygiene (e.g., washing hands) before beginning food preparation, and also between stages, to avoid cross-contamination.

? To save time and small children's frustration, be sure to cut and measure ingredients before the child begins to assist. Small children have short attention spans and may become impatient.

? Give children quick, simple instructions, one at a time, and be prepared to repeat them if they do not understand or forget what they have been told.

? Older children can be encouraged to read the recipe and help to measure out or weigh the ingredients.

? Younger children can be involved in the mixing process by placing the ingredients in a jar with a secure lid and letting them shake the contents. This works particularly well with batters and salad dressings.

? All ages can help with frosting and decorating holiday cookies or cupcakes. Use your favorite homemade recipes, or time saving box or frozen dough for simple sugar cookies and cakes. Decoration ideas include: colored sugars, cookie cutters, frosting, icing, candies, etc?

? Always explain the potential dangers in the kitchen and the protocol for safety. Such dangers include sharp knives, hot stoves and ovens, pans of boiling liquids and invisible germs.

? Encourage the children to be involved in the cleaning-up process during and after the baking session is completed.

? For children interested in creativity with decoration, let them make up some edible "play-dough", which they can craft into colorful centerpieces or napkin holders. Or provide children with paper, and crayons or paints to create personalized place mats for each family member and dinner guest.

? Adults make a mess when they are creating in the kitchen, so expect children to have even more mishaps.

Remember to remain calm and have a sense of adventure and humor!

Lisa Barnes is the owner of Petit Appetit, a cooking service devoted to babies and toddlers. Lisa teaches private and group cooking classes to parents throughout Northern California and is the author of The Petit Appetit Cookbook (Penguin, March 2005). Visit for information.

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