Child's play in kitchen: Get the kids involved with holiday baking projects

Angie Gibbs with sons (from left) Josh, 6, Cannon, 2, and Sturlin, 16, in their North Charleston kitchen.

One of Angie Gibbs' favorite things about the holidays is spending time in the kitchen with her kids. The North Charleston resident and her sons, Sturlin, 16, Josh, 6, and Cannon, 2, enjoy each other's company while whipping up some tasty holiday treats.

"We do Christmas cookies together every year, and take them to all of our neighbors," Gibbs says. "We find recipes that are easy, and the kids have a lot of fun decorating them. Then they help me box them up and deliver them around the neighborhood."

But the Gibbs boys also enjoy helping mom make tasty dishes for themselves. Some family favorites include Chocolate-dipped Peanut Butter Ritz Crackers, plus her mother's cranberry salad and other sweets.

Gibbs says having her kids cook with her also helps them want to eat what they prepare.

"It's because they're involved in it," she explains. "My 6-year-old is picky, but if he helps make it and he knows what's in it, then he's more likely to eat it."

Mount Pleasant mom Ellen Wilson agrees. Her son Trey, 3, loves to help with baking during the holidays.

"It's a great chance for me to teach him about nutrition and help him understand why we make the food choices we make in our home," she says.

Trey's favorite part is rolling out the dough and cutting the cookies into shapes, which Wilson says helps build dexterity in his hands.

Wilson and her husband, Tom, are conscientious about not allowing many preservatives, additives and sugar into the foods they eat.

"Trey's favorite foods may sound atypical for an average 3-year-old, but it's based on what he's been exposed to," she explains.

Trey's favorite treats include Rice Krispy treats made with organic brown rice cereal and muffins cooked with organic pumpkin. He also loves homemade pizzas made with organic whole-wheat flour and fresh mozzarella.

Jamie Browning, pitmaster at Sticky Fingers in Mount Pleasant, says the key to getting kids involved in the kitchen is simple: Have fun!

"Kids have to touch it and feel it to make a connection with the food," Browning says. "That's why cooking with your kids, especially picky eaters, is so very important. If they handle it, and help prepare it, then they take ownership of it, and that will translate into clean plates."

He says that getting messy while eating appeals to kids.

For Wilson, seeing her son get down and dirty in the kitchen is a blessing.

"I let him count how many teaspoons or cups of an ingredient we add, and let him stir and sift," she says. "It makes a bit more of a mess, but it's well worth it for the time we get to share and the experience he has."

Recipes to try

Here are some mom-recommended holiday recipes. For more recipes, go to www.lowcountryparent.com.

Chocolate-Dipped Peanut Butter Ritz Crackers

"This is a Christmas favorite and great for the kids to make." -Angie Gibbs

Ingredients

1 large box of Ritz Crackers

1 medium/large jar of peanut butter (crunchy or smooth)

Chocolate Almond Bark (can use the White Chocolate Almond Bark if preferred)

Directions

Cover one to two baking sheets with wax paper. This will be used after the cookies are dipped in the Chocolate Almond Bark

Spread 1 teaspoon of peanut butter between two Ritz Crackers, as many as you like and set to the side. Follow directions on Chocolate Almond Bark for melting. (I recommend the microwave method and melt it in a large glass bowl so that the kids can assist in the dipping process). Using tongs, dip the crackers in the chocolate and place on baking sheet covered in wax paper and let cool. For quicker cooling process, you may pop the sheet pans in the fridge for 4 to 5 minutes. Once coating has hardened, store cookies in tin or Tupperware bowl with wax paper.

Cranberry Pineapple Holiday Salad

"This is a huge family favorite for the holidays. My boys like to assist in making this every year." -Angie Gibbs

Ingredients

1 (12 ounce) package of fresh or frozen cranberries, coarsely chopped (fresh preferred)

1 (20 ounce) can of crushed pineapple, with juice

2 cups of white sugar

1/2 pint of heavy whipping cream

1 cup of chopped walnuts

2 cups of miniature marshmallows

Directions

In a large bowl, stir together chopped cranberries, pineapple (with juice) and sugar. Let stand for about an hour to let sugar dissolve, then pour the mixture into a strainer over a bowl. Let drain, covered in the fridge overnight. (You can pull this off in two to three hours if necessary, however overnight is preferred)

Once drained, put whipping cream, beaters and bowl in freezer for five minutes. Remove and pour whipping cream into cold bowl. Beat on high speed until soft peaks form. If you like a sweeter salad, add a couple of teaspoons of powdered sugar as you beat the whipped cream. In a large festive bowl, fold the cranberry mixture, chopped walnuts and marshmallows together. Fold in whipped cream and store in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve. This dish will travel well and my kids love to help make the whipped cream so they can, of course, lick the bowl and beaters.

Pumpkin Muffins

From Ellen Wilson

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (half whole wheat, preferably organic)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup fresh pumpkin mashed (cut a pie pumpkin into wedges, boil for 30 minutes on low, peel off the peeling and any remaining strings or seeds)

1/3 cup olive or canola oil

2 large eggs, free range

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1 1/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon sugar, divided

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put liners in muffin cups.

Sift together flour and baking powder; set aside. Whisk together pumpkin, oil, eggs, pumpkin pie spice, 1 1/4 cups sugar, baking soda and salt in a large bowl until smooth, then whisk in flour mixture until just combined.

Stir together cinnamon and remaining one tablespoon of sugar in another bowl.

Divide batter among muffin cups (each should be about 3/4 full), then sprinkle tops with cinnamon-sugar mixture. Bake until puffed and golden brown and wooden pick or skewer inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes.

Cool in pan on a rack five minutes, then transfer muffins from pan to rack and cool to warm or room temperature.

Jennifer Shelton is a freelance writer for Lowcountry Parent magazine. For more stories from the magazine, go to www.lowcountryparent.com.