Like so many holidays, Thanksgiving is full of traditions, many of which start in the kitchen.
It is a time when families will visit from near and far, coming together to celebrate over a traditional meal. For parents, especially those with small children, this can be a stressful time dealing with picky eaters and tantrums at the table.
However, it can also be a wonderful time to get kids involved and engaged in preparing the traditional meal. Cooking together can also be a bonding experience that stirs up warm memories in years to come.
Holidays such as Thanksgiving give us the perfect opportunity to make cooking a part of the family culture. The older generations pass down treasured recipes to their children and grandchildren, while also imparting family stories and traditions. When I was growing up, I would often help my grandparents prepare our weekly Shabbat dinners, going over to their apartment Friday afternoons after school.
By helping them each week, I not only learned the secrets to perfect brisket and my grandmother’s amazing chicken and rice, but I also had the chance to grow closer to them and learn more about their lives, and my mother’s life growing up with them. Cooking provided us with a natural way to interact and grow closer. It also was a teaching opportunity, not only related to family traditions but in many aspects of life.
Cooking can be a time to help children work on math skills such as counting, measuring and figuring out fractions, all of which may be needed to follow a recipe. Kids will learn how to stay on task and follow step-by-step instructions. They sharpen their problem-solving skills by following directions and preparing the food in a logical manner, eventually being rewarded with the final product of a successful meal.
Cooking with kids also helps promote a healthier lifestyle. Many children, especially toddlers and young school-aged children, are very picky eaters. Mealtime can feel like a battle, making dinnertime stressful. This is often worse during holidays like Thanksgiving when there are many foods children are not used to having and that they don’t recognize.
However, when kids help prepare the meal, they are more willing to try the food they made. They may sample foods during the cooking process and be much more open to trying the finished products. Kids feel more involved when they get to contribute in the kitchen, especially when they are able to give their opinions on what food to serve and selecting recipes.
This leads to fewer arguments at the dinner table and more room for compromise when sharing a meal with a picky eater. Cooking with the family helps kids become comfortable or even accomplished in the kitchen and builds their confidence in their ability to make healthy lifestyle choices.
Thanksgiving provides multiple generations an opportunity to share cherished moments and create legacies in the kitchen.
Dr. Laura Shefner writes about pediatric care for the Cleveland Jewish News. She is a pediatrician at The MetroHealth System and practices in Beachwood and Parma.