From meatloaf squishing to remaking your local restaurant’s best recipe, a little creativity in the kitchen will go a long way.

By Stacey Ballis
December 23, 2020
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Credit: Getty / skynesher

As we get closer to not only the holidays themselves, but the time off from schooling that accompanies them, many parents are facing the reality of a long stretch of days that will need filling, without the benefit of many places to go or things to do outside the home. So how can cooking and baking together fill those hours? Easily! Some cooking and baking projects are made for long empty days and having some creative ideas in your back pocket can make for some seriously delicious quality family time.

Enjoy these time-tested, age-specific ways to lure your family into the kitchen.

Strategies for little kids

Small hands have short attention spans and limited motor skills, so don’t think about big, complicated projects for the 3-5-year-olds, but more about messy! Kids this age love getting stuck into sloppy stuff, so let them go for it! As long as those hands are clean, they can squish up cookie dough or meatloaf mix with the best of them, and no ill effects to the final project.  

Strategies for elementary school age kids

The 6-10-year-olds have certainly more of an attention span as well as the ability to learn some basic skills like stirring a pot or simple knife skills (as long as you are there to guide). This is a great age to learn scrambled eggs and French toast, or a dish like risotto where they can take over the stirring and save your arm. Fun one-bowl desserts like brownies or other bars, sweet loaf breads, or baking projects like pretzels are all great projects with this age group.

Strategies for middle schoolers

From ages 11 to 13, kids love projects that make them feel grown up, so think about dinner projects that can take all day. Homemade pasta with a long-simmered sauce, salad dressing from scratch, a stew or a braise, or a fun dessert are all activities that put your whole family at a dinner table eating a meal that had their input and participation. It’s a wonderful way to bond as well as giving your kids a terrific boost in self-esteem and self-efficacy.

Strategies for teenagers

The key to cooking projects with teenagers is to ensure that the project itself is their idea and not something imposed on them. Figure out what they would be most interested in and ask if they want to take it on. If they watch The Great British Baking Show? Which bakes would they like to tackle? If they love competitive shows like Chopped, have everyone make up baskets for each other and have to make some dishes from the contents, in teams if that makes things easier. You’ll know if your teen is more of a baker or a cook, so lean into that. If they have a favorite restaurant that is currently closed, see if you can source some recipes to try and master their best dishes. And don’t hesitate to mask up and hit a small independent ethnic market for inspiration. Teenagers especially love to check out international snack foods, sweet treats, and unusual ingredients, and many of these stores are hurting even more than the big chains, so they will be enormously grateful for the business.