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Alison Sweeney: How I get my kids to help in the kitchen

The holidays are an incredible time of year in my family. We talk about what we’re grateful to have shared in the past 12 months, and we do things as a family. This year, I plan to have my kids much more involved in the cooking of our family meals.

Now that I’ve hosted a series of specials for Food Network (including Christmas Cookie Challenge, premiering on November 28, and Kids Sweets Showdown, premiering November 30), I’ve come to understand how much our kids are capable of doing in the kitchen and how meaningful it is for them to share the preparation process.

Alison Sweeney's son cooking
Image: Alison Sweeney

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Whether it’s learning to prep food or being in charge of one component of a dish, my kids are starting to spend more time in the kitchen with me, and they’re taking great pride in what they contribute to our family dinners. I’m hoping to share our traditional holiday recipes this year, so they can perfect them and continue the traditions for future generations.

Initially, I had my kids really help with baking because I knew they’d be delighted to lick the spoon after making the cookies, and to eat the dessert once it was ready. While they definitely appreciate the baked goods, I’ve found they also really love making a dinner for us, or at least contributing to the meal.

I’ve also realized that since they’ve started spending more time in the kitchen with me, they’re less demanding with what they want for dinner. They realize why I’ve always refused to make a different dish for each of them.

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If you’re like me and reluctant to have your kids use knives, here are some easy ways to have them help without worrying about them losing a finger:

Prep the food.

Everything from washing to measuring can be done by our kids, and they learn how much goes into the meal from its inception.

Make the side dishes.

From a salad to vegetables, kids are able to get the sides ready before graduating to the main dish.

Learn how to garnish dishes!

I’ve found that my kids love certain garnishes (cilantro) but not others (spices), so they’re able to garnish a dish to meet their palate—and then add other components to Dave’s plate and my plate to meet our tastes.

Plate the food.

Knowing proper portions is always a good idea, and by plating the food, kids are proud of the final product we put on the table.

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