I don’t want to scare you, but Thanksgiving is one week from today. Until now, I have purposely ignored all the too-early holiday decorations put out by overeager stores. I don’t mean to be a Scrooge. I just don’t want to get sick of the holidays because I love them so dearly. So I systematically turn my cart down another aisle anytime I catch even the tiniest glimpse of a twinkling light or bit of tinsel when I’m shopping. (Am I alone in shielding my fall from winter so vociferously?) My point is: If you do the same, this is your official alert to wake up and smell the pumpkin pie. It’s officially the holiday season.
Some readers have already been asking me about family traditions: Who does the cooking? How do I include my kids? Since my head is out of the sand and I’m fully embracing the season, I thought today would be a great time to answer those questions with some tips and ideas on how to include the kiddos in the holiday cooking (and eating!). And given that I have a couple of pickier eaters in my brood, I’m throwing in some extra pointers on that front too.
Get my top five ways to include the kids in holiday meals
One of the best lessons I’ve learned about cooking for kids is simple: When something works, find a spinoff recipe. We have three small kids, and those rascals love Homemade Ham and Pineapple Pizza (duh!), so I made Pork and Pineapple Skewers. Sure enough, another hit. (Trust me, they’re not all hits, and that’s why this is important.) Our biggest, most-unstoppable hit on Foodlets has been these healthy Pumpkin Spice Mini Muffins, so you know where I’m going with this. Bran cereal and chocolate chips bring new flavors to that classic pumpkin taste. These muffins are also easy, healthy and, yeah, a hit. Score one for parents everywhere.
Get the recipe: Pumpkin Bran Muffins with Chocolate Chips
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I must have made chili 10 times, all different ways — chicken chili, chili con carne, chili with corn, chili without corn — and the kids wouldn’t go near it. Until I took a tip from “Fancy Nancy” and made it, well, fancy (and until I also eased up on the cumin, which I suspect was an element that led to previous failures).
It’s the presentation for knee-high critics that often counts the most. You won’t ever find me sculpting scooters out of hot dogs or sharks from watermelons. There are three kids under 5 at my house and I’d need a lot more free time in my life to pull that off. But doing this wasn’t difficult. To make your chili “fancy,” simply spoon and layer it with cheddar cheese into small glasses. Repeat, serve and bask in the success of the moment.
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In the last few years, the bulk of my friends have become parents. It has been a joy to watch these dear people grow families and to see their once-tiny, squawking babes turn into little humans with preferences and desires.
One thing I’ve learned is that once kids enter the picture in your social circle, it becomes a whole lot harder to throw a traditional dinner party. And so, I stopped having them. Instead I started inviting people over for more casual gatherings and welcomed their children.
In the process, I’ve become a connoisseur of meals that allow you to cook once and satisfy everyone. Burrito bars are one good option, because they allow for mixing, matching and liberal applications of hot sauce for the parents.
Before you start cooking, read these tips
I’ve always had the dream of being that mom on the block who just always happens to have a big kettle of brothy soup simmering on the stove, on the off-chance that the neighborhood kids playing kickball in the street want to come in out of the cold and warm up to a steamy mug of goodness. Word would spread, and perhaps some neighbors would drop by, lured by the savory smells wafting out of our always-opening front door. I’d smile warmly (I’m certain I wouldn’t be on a work deadline of any sort), and I’d hand them a bowlful of liquid heaven, along with a hunk of crusty bread for dipping.
Turns out, though, my four girls don’t play kickball, and I don’t allow them in the street anyway. Plus, as I type, just days from November, I’m wearing shorts and a T-shirt. Soup is a year-round affair, if you ask me, but even here in San Diego, fall and winter seem to call for it all the more. Everyone loves soup this time of year, right? It makes us feel comforted and cozy. But in case you needed them, here are six more reasons to love soup:
1. Soup’s a no-brainer way to lose weight.
Yes! Did you know there are studies showing that simply starting meals with a healthy soup promotes weight loss? I love habits that do the work for me. All you have to do is adopt the habit. Why not start with my White Gazpacho or the Roasted Tomato Winter Gazpacho in my cookbook?
5 more reasons to love soup
Sometimes a hearty breakfast hits the spot. But when you have three small kids underfoot like I do, it has to be fast. I love assembling these ham, egg and cheese cups because they’re easy and the kids can help — which translates into insurance that they’ll at least try one. In this case, they usually devour them.
“Line” the cups of a muffin pan with low-sodium (non-MSG) ham slices. Add a quarter slice of wheat bread, then break a whole egg in. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and cheese, then bake them for 15 to 18 minutes at 400 degrees F.
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Kids aren’t always wild about veggies as a side dish. So I try and add diced or pureed veggies to everything I can, including main dishes like meatloaf and desserts like brownies. Or take this pasta dish: It’s rigatoni with meatballs, but I added diced red peppers during the last minute of cooking. Then I slathered on the marinara sauce and meatballs (cooked separately). With all the chunks of sweet tomatoes incorporated into the sauce, the kids didn’t even notice the peppers. But they did get a boost of vitamin C.
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I have a sweet tooth, so my favorite part of a meal is dessert. In addition to being sweet and fabulous, though, dessert can be a great strategic player in helping picky eaters becoming more adventurous. And I don’t mean in the old-school “clean your plate so you can eat dessert” sort of way.
Here are five dessert strategies that I use in our household to combat picky eating:
1. Encourage an adventurous palate.
Most kids love dessert. So if you serve a child who loves cookies a new kind of cookie (say, an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie instead of her normal favorite gingersnap), she will probably dig it. And then you can have a conversation about how fun it was to try something new. (If she doesn’t go for the swap, no big deal, because dessert is an optional course; there’s no risk of you caving in and becoming a short-order cook.)
Our kids love eggs. We make hard-boiled eggs with bunny faces for breakfast and snacks all the time. But now we’ve moved on to a lunchtime classic: egg salad sandwiches. The kiddie update? Pickles. These sandwiches are simple: just eggs, real mayonnaise, a squirt of mustard and diced dill pickles. High-protein, easy to prepare and even easier on your wallet, these have become a lunchtime staple for the preschool set at our place. Try them with your kids this week.
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Whether it’s because of an A+ spelling test, a hat trick on the soccer field or a pristinely cleaned bedroom, every child — and grownup — deserves to be treated to something special once in a while, and for many kids, that surprise may come in the form of dessert. Instead of resorting to store-bought goodies to save time in the kitchen, stick with from-scratch treats, like these homemade desserts, ready to eat in mere minutes.
A single-serving indulgence that demands no baking at all, Food Network Magazine’s Instant Chocolate Cake (pictured above) is a family-friendly pick that takes just 10 minutes to make. This rich, moist cake is prepped with traditional pastry ingredients, like cocoa, flour and vanilla extract, but it’s cooked quickly in the microwave instead of the oven. Perhaps the best part about this go-to recipe is that all of the ingredients are simply stirred — without the help of a mixer — in the same oversize mug in which it’s served.
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