Keep your sanity by turning the kitchen into a workshop for your little elves.  

After nearly a year of managing homeschooling and lockdown birthdays, cancelled vacations and Zoom only playdates, most parents I know are pretty much at wit’s end for creative ways to keep their littles entertained and happy. And now, it’s Christmas, and there will not be trips to Grandma’s house or parties or any of the things that kids count on for making the holiday special, and parents count on for keeping them busy. But this year, the kitchen is your best bet for an unforgettable holiday with your immediate family, and you might just find you are creating some new traditions along the way.

Here are 5 easy ideas for making Christmas special with your little ones this year.

1. Decorate something sweet.

There is nothing like a decorating project to keep even the wiggliest kid focused for a long time. Depending on the age of your kids, pick a project that works best for them. For really little ones, decorated cookies are always the way to go. Have kids with more patience? Bake off (or buy) small sheet cakes and let each kid decorate their own: Having a flat canvas makes this much easier. Slightly older kids? Go for a classic gingerbread house, either from a kit or fully from scratch depending on their interest and your own skill set.

2. Make old-school food décor

Stringing cranberries and popcorn for the tree, baking off ornament cookies, studding oranges with cloves for festive aromatherapy … there are many ways to use food to create your holiday decorations this year, with a balance of some that are actually edible and some that you’ll be able to keep forever. Blown eggs can make great ornaments or a homemade nativity scene. Upside down ice cream cones can become a forest of edible Christmas trees. Salt dough ornaments can be painted and sealed for a new set of heirlooms, and gingerbread or shortbread versions can taste as good as they look.

Baking Cookies
Credit: Getty / filmstudio

3. Make homemade or creative versions of their favorite foods

Are your kids nugget crazy? Do they love spaghetti and meatballs? Take some of their favorite dishes and bring them into the kitchen to get inspired. Make some homemade chicken nuggets, which will be more delicious and healthier when made from scratch (and can be done in large batches for freezing). Bake spaghetti in muffin tins with meatballs on top for S’getti Nests or frost meatloaf muffins with mashed potatoes for Meatloaf Cupcakes. And get your little chefs helping! This is a great way to get your kids excited about cooking beyond baking.

4. Teach them a basic breakfast dish they will make for a lifetime

From simple scrambled eggs to silver dollar pancakes, breakfast is a fun place to play in the kitchen with your kids, and whether they are helping mix batter or actually manning the stove with your help, learning some simple dishes like these are skills that will serve them well down the road. Bonus: Future Mother’s Day breakfasts in bed might go up a notch in quality.

5. Make something with them that you made when you were that age

From Girl or Boy Scout foil packet dinners, to Rice Krispie treats with your favorite babysitter, we all have something we learned to make as a kid that we remember fondly. This is as much about sharing the story of who you were when you were their age as it is about the dish itself. One thing about Christmas that can easily get lost in the madness is actually taking the time to connect deeply and meaningfully with each other, and the extraordinary nature of this year can be a good reset on the things that are the most important. Food is an amazing jumping-off point.