Here we are again, the holiday season when our thoughts turn to lighter subjects and we allow ourselves to enjoy the magic of the season. The Grand Elf is busy working his list. The sights and sounds return us to that little child inside and remind us that our relationships are truly the most important thing in our lives.
As we plan our holiday feast, let’s remember to include our children in the menu planning and food preparations. Many Americans today did not learn basic cooking skills from their parents. So we have surrendered flavor for the convenience of high sodium, high fat, pre-made, instant foods. The holiday season presents us with a wonderful opportunity to create warm memories of Christmas and at the same time to learn basic cooking skills with our children.
It all starts with a plan. Get the kids together and decide on the menu. Then dust off those cookbooks and choose recipes that fit your menu. Remember that something as basic as homemade mashed potatoes can add a mountain of flavor to any holiday meal. Do your children know that mashed potatoes come from someplace other than a box?
Homemade dressing offers a good chance for everyone to develop basic culinary skills. Grandmother teaches Mom how the milk, broth and egg add moisture to the bread ingredients keeping your dressing moist. Grandfather sharpens the kitchen knives demonstrating patience and wisdom. Dad and older teenagers learn safe knife handling as they chop celery and onions. And stirring the ingredients in a large mixing bowl is ideal for younger children. Allow extra prep time so as not to make it a stressful activity.
The point is to make cooking fun. This means Mom and Dad that we have to allow for a mess or two. And if the dressing doesn’t pass muster (or should I say mustard?), we still have the memory of the family activity to talk about next year. “Remember when Mom burned the rolls for Christmas?” Every moment during the holidays becomes a potential part of our tradition that is passed on to our children. And if we can also pass on some cooking skills, our children will be better prepared for a healthy future by learning to eat more fresh and less pre-packaged foods.
If you are new to cooking, start simple. Every menu item does not have to be made from scratch. For example, if you are not sure about roasting a turkey, make that a convenience item and add fresh steamed asparagus and homemade cornbread dressing as accompaniments. Gravy for the potatoes is a good place to learn about basic sauces. And if it fails, have on hand an instant package as a back up. Homemade salad dressings are one of the easiest things to make using extra virgin olive oil, the vinegar of your choice and some seasonings. Check out Memorial Cooking Innovations on line at memorialhealth.org for recipe ideas.
Remember that the key to a successful holiday is not the food, but the people. This is a time to share the precious commodity of time with others and perhaps be a little more affectionate to those who are important to us. May your time this holiday season become a special memory! May your children adopt the joy of homemade meals as part of their holiday tradition! And may your gravy be free of lumps!
By Tim Scallon, M.S. R.D. L.D.
Director of the Horace C. Polk Jr. Regional Diabetes Center and
Department of Clinical Nutrition at Memorial Health System of East Texas
Tim Scallon is a registered dietitian and Director of Clinical Nutrition and the HC Polk Education Center at Memorial Health System in Lufkin. The Polk Center provides individual and group education on diabetes, heart disease and stroke; monthly classes on healthy cooking; and monthly support groups in Lufkin and Livingston. In cooperation with Sodexo Food Service and the City of Lufkin, the Polk Center produces the nationally viewed TV series Memorial Cooking Innovations where dietitian Tim Scallon teams up with Chef Mani Marini to demonstrate how healthy eating can taste great. The show can be seen on cable in 46 cities and on the Memorial web site at http://www.memorialhealth.org.