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Let little ones help prepare holiday dishes

Kids literally make the holidays.

Bring them into the kitchen and help take the stress out of Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa celebrations. They are eager to learn and can participate in more preparations than parents or grandparents realize.

Children as young as 3 can fetch ingredients from the pantry or refrigerator. Such tasks help with recognition and reading skills, so you can create benefits beyond the meal by taking the time to teach them. What better way to learn fractions and math than by measuring ingredients for a cake or any dish?

Also, please don’t stress if the kids mess up. I have had powdered sugar spilled on the floor, eggs that missed the bowl and too much of certain ingredients, but it is OK. Cooking is not brain surgery. These slipups can be fixed. Take joy in this time; you won’t get it back.

Some of my most memorable times with my grandmother were spent in the kitchen. She was so patient and loving. I remember creating my own cake recipe, and she took it so seriously. She got out a recipe card and wrote down the ingredients and the amounts that I added to the cake. She called me “Pud,” so she named the cake Pud’s Cake. That was more than 55 years ago, and I still tear up that she cared so much.

She wanted me to feel special and to show me my worth. So, what is a messy, powered sugar-streaked kitchen in the grand scheme of things? Absolutely nothing.

This holiday season, welcome little helpers. Teach them how to crack eggs over a bowl and beat them. Also, show them how to get pieces of egg shells out of the cracked eggs. Let them add their beaten eggs to cakes, pies or sweet potato casseroles.

Words of caution: Don’t let the kids near an open flame, and don’t let them handle sharp knives until they are older — say 10 or so.

They can do the fetching, adding, stirring and, with help, pouring into the pans. Read the recipe together, demonstrating the difference between a teaspoon and a tablespoon. Help them do some math calculations, such as how many teaspoons are in a tablespoon.

My 6-year-old granddaughter loves to be in the kitchen with me, and I treasure that. I am imparting what my grandmother did for me. My mom was a single parent and businesswoman in the 1950s — yes, a forerunner — and that left little time for cooking with me, so my grandmother stepped in.

Another fun idea is to buy the kids aprons and kitchen tools that are just their size. Lilly has a Minnie Mouse apron, pink silicone spatula and purple silicone whisk. The kid-size tools are available where kitchen products are sold. Tupperware also has a nice kitchen set for youngsters.

As I was writing this, I asked Lilly her favorite holiday foods. Number one was chocolate chip cookies, then mac and cheese and sweet potato casserole. Another favorite can be an appetizer, snack or even light dessert after a heavy holiday meal. For the holidays, enjoy our recipes for holiday dinners or even gift giving. Lilly, her mom and I always make Lilly’s teachers’ gifts. Again, the holidays are about caring, sharing and memories.


  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons hot water
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk chocolate chips or semisweet, if you prefer. Lilly likes milk chocolate.
  • 1 cup pecans or walnuts, optional. We omit; Lilly doesn’t like nuts.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream together the butter, white sugar and brown sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Dissolve baking soda in hot water. Add to batter along with salt. Stir in flour, chocolate chips and nuts. Drop large spoonfuls onto ungreased pans.

Bake for about 10 minutes in the preheated oven, or until edges are nicely browned.

*Reworked from



  • 6 large sweet potatoes, baked, peeled and mashed
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1 small can Mandarin oranges, drained
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • Topping:
  • 1 cup or so corn flake crumbs
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar

Cook potatoes, skin and all, in microwave for about 10-12 minutes or longer depending on microwave wattage. Remove and let cool until easy to handle. Cut potatoes in half and scoop out the flesh into a large mixing bowl.

Add remaining ingredients and pour into buttered 2-quart casserole.

Mix together topping ingredients and spread onto casserole. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, until the cornflake topping is nice and crunchy.

Note: Lilly prefers to ditch the cornflake topping and just use marshmallows.



(Makes four servings)

  • 24 caramel candies (about half of a bag of Kraft caramels)
  • 2 Fuji apples
  • 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice, about 1/4 of lemon)
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon water
  • 2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
  • Pinch of cinnamon

Unwrap candies and place in a bowl. While children are working on that, a parent or grandparent can cut the apples in quarters, taking out seeds. Then slice the apples into eight pieces per apple. Count the number of slices with the children. Have them squirt lemon juice in a bowl and add one cup water to it. Add the sliced apples to the water and turn them around in it. Drain them in a colander or strainer. The lemon juice keeps the apples from turning brown.

Add one tablespoon water and the peanut butter to the unwrapped caramels. Place mixture in the microwave oven and cook them on high for two minutes. Stir up the dip with a rubber spatula. If the candy is not melted all the way, put it back in the microwave on high for another 20 seconds. Add a pinch of cinnamon to the sauce and stir.

To serve, place the drained and sliced apples next to the peanut-buttery caramel dip and dip away. To reheat the dip, place it back in the microwave for 30 seconds.

*From “Cooking Rocks! Rachael Ray 30-Minute Meals for Kids

Andrea Yeager is a freelance writer who lives in Long Beach with her daughter, granddaughter and pets.

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