Thanksgiving can be a little dull for the younger set, given the cooler temperatures, adults busy in the kitchen, and the long wait for the main event—which is just dinner, after all. Rather than leave them to their own devices, electronic or otherwise, get kids into the spirit of family and feasting with some fun kitchen creations. When kids can contribute their talents to the meal, they’re much more invested in the whole holiday event. Also, you’re likely to find that even picky eaters are more apt to try something they’ve had a hand in making. Many of these dishes can be made with minimal adult assistance, so kids can really take ownership of their culinary contributions. And what’s more, you’ll be thankful for the help!
Can’t wait for the actual turkey to start the day’s noshing? Or looking for a way to pay homage to the traditional bird in a meat-free manner? Ask kids to create a veggie mosaic in honor of Turkey Day! Even the littlest chefs can help with this creation. Just provide them with a platter and a dish for a favorite dip, like homemade ranch dressing, and let them create their edible artwork. Pre-cut carrots, celery and multi-colored peppers work well for faux turkey feathers. Elementary kids can cut peppers and cucumbers with plastic knives, and older kids can practice some basic knife skills under supervision. Blanched broccoli or cauliflower florets work well for the body of the veggie “bird.” Capers or olives can be used to help create a turkey face. This dish is sure to be well-received as a fresh, healthy way to start the meal. And if kids fill up on veggies before the main course—oh well. They’ll surely regain their appetites in time for dessert.
Pumpkin Spice Cheese Balls
Try changing up the usual pumpkin spices in favor of this savory cheese ball spread. You can whir together a mix of 8 ounces shredded cheddar, a tablespoon of pumpkin puree, a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce, ½ teaspoon each paprika, garlic powder, and dry mustard with 2-3 tablespoons butter in a food processor. Or take some help from the store and purchase cold pack cheese spread. Have your young chefs form the mix into little balls, about a tablespoon each. Insert half a butter spindle pretzel as a stem and garnish with parsley leaves. Kids can use a toothpick to detail lines down the sides of each little pumpkin. If you wish, sprinkle some chopped nuts over the platter for your little pumpkin patch.
Sweet Potato Bites
Deconstruct the usual casserole in favor of these straightforward sweet potato bites. Picky eaters will be able to see that there’s nothing strange hidden in the mash: just a sweet potato slice, a marshmallow and a pecan! Start with some pre-baked whole sweet potatoes, cool enough to handle. Kids can peel the skins off and slice into ½-inch thick rounds. Place them in a single layer on a lightly oiled baking sheet and bake the slices until the bottoms are crisp and spotty golden, about 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Meanwhile, young chefs can use kitchen shears to cut large marshmallows in half. Being careful of the hot baking sheet, place a marshmallow piece on each roasted sweet potato slice and pop the tray under the broiler. Keep the kids close at hand to watch the mallows puff and brown, about a minute. Out of the oven, press a pecan half into each toasted marshmallow. Serve hot or at room temperature.
For something more main fare, let the kids get right into the mix with this easy stuffing recipe. Not only does this version of a Thanksgiving must-have make itself more fun by taking the form of muffins, but the kid appeal is amped up with the sweeter, more familiar flavors of apples and onions—no giblets, no heavy spices, or “acquired tastes” required!
This clever food craft can serve as the centerpiece until the end of the meal. If you have enough tabletop real estate, let the kids make several to put on display. Simply stick the end of a sugar cone into the steaming spout of a tea kettle until it starts to look a little droopy, 30 seconds or so. Use your hands to gently bend the steamed end up into a hook, like a traditional cornucopia basket. Fill the cones with whipped cream frosting or vanilla pudding, lay them on their sides and garnish with candy corn, nuts, pumpkin seeds, or any other edible seasonal treats. Feel free to let some of the bounty spill out onto the plate to help hold these creations in place. They are, after all, horns of plenty!
What’s not to love about these little cutie-pies? With all the flavor of the full-sized versions, these are just right for a bite of something sweet following the big feast. Kids can make up a single tray of many flavors, too, if they like. Let them roll out the dough, cut out plain circles or seasonal shapes, and spoon in a simple pumpkin pie filling, spiced applesauce, or a mix of chopped pecans with brown sugar and butter. Though the lollipop sticks are completely optional, they certainly add charm and a whimsical finish to a memorable meal.
All photos courtesy of Patrick Stigeler, Artisanal Imaging, LLC., used with permission, all rights reserved.