It’s still staycation season, so keep them occupied with these easy (and delicious) ideas.

By Stacey Ballis
February 16, 2021
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Just when parents have emerged from December's holiday tunnel, here comes that February Winter Break and/or March Spring Break. And given the limitations still imposed by the COVID pandemic, chances are that any chance of a vacation this year is going to be a staycation.  

Never fear! A parent's best staycation secret weapon is always the kitchen. Get the whole family involved in a cooking project and you just might find that not only do you get your kids off their screens, but you'll end up with something delicious that the whole family can enjoy. Here are 10 top cooking and baking projects to do with your kids this Winter and/or Spring Break.

Make dumplings

From gyoza to pierogi to ravioli, there is going to be a version that appeals to your family. Go all-scratch with homemade dough or keep it simpler with store-bought wrappers. The whole project is made for small hands, from mixing the filling, stuffing and sealing, steaming or frying, and creating dips or sauces. And the results, however imperfect to look at, are always satisfying to eat.

Get the recipe: Chinese Potstickers

Make hand pies

If your kids like a Hot Pocket or a Pop-Tart, then hand pies will be right up their alley. You can make them savory or sweet. Go all-American with fillings like pulled pork, or international by making empanadas or samosas. Make an all-hand-pie meal with mini ones for appetizers, big ones for dinner, and sweet ones for dessert. They can be baked or fried, depending on the age and skill of your kids, and even better, they often are super freezable, so make a lot to have on hand for future lunches and snacks.

Go global

Find a wonderful all-in-one meal from somewhere else in the world and let your kids explore new flavors and spices and techniques. From homemade biriyani, to tagine, to cassoulet, a one-pot meal that has had many hands involved in the making is just what you need this time of year.

Get the recipe: Chicken Paella

Credit: Getty / Nick David

Go all in on lasagna

Lasagna is one of those dishes that is as much a concept as a recipe. Layered pasta and sauce, cheese or bechamel or both, vegetables or meat, red or white… the possibilities are endless. You can go major with homemade pasta sheets or cheat it with large cheese ravioli to save some steps. Make a giant one or let everyone make their own mini version. Make double and freeze one for later.

Get the recipe: Our Best Lasagna Recipes

Make granola

Granola is the project that is also a gift. Granola is one of the easiest things to make, can help use up bits and bobs of pantry items like baking ingredients, cereals, and even snack foods. You can customize to your kids' hearts' content, and is a wonderful thing to have on hand for breakfast or snacking. It also makes a great gift for everyone from a delivery person to a next-door neighbor.

Get the recipe: Best Basic Granola

Play with batter

Pancakes, waffles, crepes, Yorkshire pudding… if you have little ones, batter-based recipes are easy and fun and always a hit. Make tiny silver dollar pancakes, or large Nutella stuffed crepes. Go savory with herbed waffles to support fried chicken tenders. Popovers are also a super kid-pleasing treat—and as fun to eat as to make.

Get the recipe: Popovers

Make braided bread or rolls

Kids love when they use food like clay and make shapes with things. Which means a soft pliable bread dough can become everything from elegant little braided or knotted rolls to miniature animals with raisin eyes, to larger braids or wreaths. Source some shaping and braiding videos online to help.

Get the recipe: Sweet Challah

Bake up some bars

From magic seven-layer bars and blondies to slab pies, baking something sweet and sliceable in a pan is a great project when you and your kids have little bandwidth to get fussy, but still want or need a little project to work on some afternoon. They mix up and bake fast, for some of that instant gratification we could all use sometimes.

Get the recipe: Our Best Brownies

Go no-cook

Sometimes after a long day with the kids (and your work), the last thing you want to do is turn on the oven. But that doesn't take sweets off the table! From no-bake cheesecakes and instant puddings to fun rainbow-layered Jell-o molds and irresistible icebox cakes, find a project that your kids will love.

Get the recipe: Mint Oreo Icebox Cake

Make candy

Homemade chocolate bark, caramels, lollypops, gummy worms… you'd be surprised how many confections are actually pretty easy to make at home. If your kids are little, think chocolate projects, since it can be melted in the microwave. If your kids are older, you can go for some actual sugarwork.

Finally, there is something about the magic of pulling taffy that is totally old-school but always fun for kids (and maybe by summertime, you'll be able to buy it on a vacation to the shore!)

Get the recipe: Honey Taffy