Get kids in the kitchen, at the table for holiday happiness

By: Kristyne E. Demske | C&G Newspapers | Published November 26, 2013

 Samantha Defever, of St. Clair Shores, then 5, waits for her decorated gingerbread cookie to be baked in an antique oven at the Selinsky-Green Farmhouse Museum in St. Clair Shores in 2012.

Samantha Defever, of St. Clair Shores, then 5, waits for her decorated gingerbread cookie to be baked in an antique oven at the Selinsky-Green Farmhouse Museum in St. Clair Shores in 2012.

File photo by Deb Jacques

With turkeys to cook, potatoes to mash, cookies and pies to bake — and a family to keep happy through all the chaos — it can be hard getting to that perfect holiday moment.

But if you have little hands help out in the kitchen, it may go smoother for all involved.

Margi Nelson, of St. Clair Shores, a mother of two and the instructor for St. Clair Shores Community Education’s Little Chefs and baking classes for youth, said there is no reason children can’t be involved in holiday meal preparation.

“There’s no reason why they can’t help you stuff a bird, (as long as you) teach them to wash their hands,” she said. “Their favorite things to do are the desserts.”

Nelson’s daughters are now 12 and 15 years old, but they got their start helping with simple things like rolling, scooping and shaping dough for cookies.

“Eventually, you stand there and help them make an egg,” she said. “Keep your temperature low. It may take a little longer, but that’s how I started my children.”

Children are better equipped to help in the kitchen than many parents think, Nelson said, and giving them a stake in the meal can be great for holiday conversations.

“I think they can become more excited because they made it,” she said. “The excitement of them making something and seeing people’s approval. Give them all the credit — I believe in saying, ‘Hey, she made this,’ even though I helped.”

The most important tool for kids in the kitchen, according to Neslon, is the potholder, and the first lesson she teaches is the importance of clean hands.

“If you touch your face, you have to wash your hands again. If you cough or sneeze in your hands or your elbow, you have to wash your hands again,” she said. “If you want other people to eat their food, they need to know that your children’s hands are clean.”

For parents wanting their children to help with prep work, Nelson said it’s amazing how many things can be cut with a butter knife.

“Even apples will cut with a butter knife,” she said. “Teach them how to make sure your fingers are away from the knife.”

Outside of the kitchen, children can assist by making Thanksgiving placemats, collecting guests’ coats or setting the table. Helping children learn the proper placement of silverware is an easy way to get even younger children in on the action.

“That’s the beginning of getting them involved so they’re excited, they’re interested,” said Kadence Jones, owner of Royal School of Elegance etiquette school in Southfield. “When they’re involved, that makes them interested.”

She said adults should also remember to include children in the conversation and make sure there are some dishes they will enjoy eating at the holiday table, she said.

Teresa Sandner, parent education program coordinator for CARE of Southeastern Michigan, said parents ought to have realistic expectations for their children.

“We have in our mind, the house is going to be decorated perfect, and all the kids are going to act like angels,” she said.

Often, children don’t have any idea how they will be expected to act, she said. Parents should make their expectations clear ahead of time, perhaps role-playing with them for practice.

“It’s not going to be a Hallmark movie,” Sandner said. “It’s going to be kids getting too much sugar and bouncing off the walls (from) all the excitement.”

As difficult as it may be, keeping routines as normal as possible is the best for children, Sandner said.

And remember to be patient.

“You’ve got to make it fun. You don’t want to holler at them; you don’t want to raise your voice. You want to use every little bit of patience you have, even if they fail. If they make a mistake, you want to say, ‘That’s OK. Let’s try again,’” Nelson said. “You have to step back.”

Little Chefs and youth baking classes will be offered during the winter session of St. Clair Shores Adult and Community Education classes. Check for information and to register.

CARE of Southeastern Michigan will hold parenting classes in January. For more details or to sign up, visit

For more information about the Royal School of Elegance, which hosts classes through Southfield’s Parks and Recreation Department, visit or call (248) 469-9916.