VALLEY — Two of my favorite events of the year are my annual holiday baking days with my mom and my co-workers.
These occasions are a great opportunity to celebrate community, foster relationships, create delicious treats, and share stories and family recipes. The holidays are a time that many folks find themselves baking or cooking. I challenge every baker and cook to bring at least one new person into the kitchen with them this season. I especially encourage you to make it a kid!
This time of year is a great opportunity to share your family’s recipes and food traditions with a new generation. Make a delicious biscochito or yummy pudding? Share your recipes and techniques with a kid in your life. While you’re at it, you can also share family stories. Informal conversations in the kitchen help improve family communication and our connections to our ancestors.
I treasure the stories, new and old, that my mom and I share on our annual baking day. Making the kringle recipe that we’ve had in our family for generations helps me connect to my grandmother who died when I was young. Despite learning to bake in 4-H when I was a kid, I still learn new techniques from my mom, an expert baker, each year. We also love to experiment with our standard recipes and try new ingredients, like almond flour.
Research shows that this time spent in the kitchen can be a creative outlet for folks. According to a 2016 study by Conner, DeYoung and Silva in the Journal of Positive Psychology, folks who take time for things like baking are happier and more relaxed.
Teaching kids to bake and cook also helps provide them with valuable life skills. When kids know their way around the kitchen, they are more likely to take the time to prepare meals at home. These types of meals tend to be healthier and more cost effective than going out to eat. Kids who cook are also more likely to try new foods, especially if they had a hand in making them.
You can use your time in the kitchen with children to pass along healthy habits like proper hand washing. If you want, you can include a little math lesson as you work with recipe measurements, too! All of the measuring, chopping, and other tasks are also great at building fine motor skills.
Many adults might think a kid is not old enough to help out in the kitchen. I’d argue that there is a task in every cooking project for any kid – you just have to find it. Take a look at the recipe and process and identify one or more areas that a kid can learn and help. For younger kids that might be measuring, pre-heating the oven, or taking ingredients out of the cupboards. For older youth, it might be chopping, peeling, or using cooking appliances.
Inviting kids into the kitchen can be a stressful experience. I guarantee whatever you are making will probably end up taking longer, even with the extra set of hands. It’s also likely to get messy. However, with some patience and grace from the adults in their lives, kids can succeed in the kitchen and build their confidence and self-esteem. Use mistakes that are made as learning opportunities, and make clean-up a part of the experience. By doing this you’ll be setting kids up with good habits.
This is a time of year to celebrate faith, family and friends. I encourage you to use the holiday foods you love and cherish as an opportunity to connect our youth with our rich traditions and histories. Happy holidays and happy baking!
Amy Henschen is the 4-H Youth Development Agent for Colorado State University Extension. To find out more about Extension and the 4-H program visit http://sanluisvalley.colostate.edu or call 719-852-7381. The Extension office is located at 1899 E Hwy 160, on the eastern edge of Monte Vista. Extension programs are available to all without discrimination.