Jaime Berube, mother of three, from Auburn, said that there is more to cooking than just preparing a meal.

“I think that cooking with your children is important all year long, but cooking around the holidays has a magical touch to it,” Berube explained. “The kitchen is the hub of many homes and it is where lots of memories are made.”

Often weeks before a holiday gathering, careful consideration and planning is taking place. The food we bring, or serve at a holiday event is a large part of how we convey our festive spirit, and appreciation for those with whom we celebrate each holiday. That festive spirit is often evident in the creative presentation many foods are given.

“On Christmas Eve morning we always make waffles, and form them in the shape of Christmas trees. We put a piece of bacon for the tree stump, a piece of fruit for the star,” explained Berube.

Winter cold’s got nothing on a warm and toasty kitchen

Anyone who is familiar with the holiday season in Maine understands that there’s really no better place to be on a snowy day than in a warm house, with the fantastic aroma of cookies, cakes, and pies filling the air. There’s something about those delicious scents that brings a smile to any face, and instantly create a cozy feeling from head to toe. When it is too cold to be outside, why not grab some flour, sugar, and any other key baking ingredients and stir up some fun?

The more the merrier on snow days, Berube said. Last year, during a snowstorm, she welcomed neighborhood kids and adults alike into her home to make gingerbread house cookies, giving everyone something to do that didn’t involve “shoveling snow.”

“We made gingerbread houses out of our house cookie cutters, homemade icing and decorated the houses using different candies and snacks everyone brought. A neighborhood gingerbread house day is already in the plans for this year.”

Snow days are something the Jessica Russell looks forward to as well. Not only does it give her something to fill up the hours when school has been cancelled, it’s something constructive and full of learning experiences. Russell said the biggest benefit for her, is that they get to spend “treasured family time” together, an important thing as the kids get older.

Learning really can be fun

At some point in life, we all are faced with feeding ourselves. No matter how involved or simple we choose to make it, Berube said she believes cooking is something all children need to learn how to do. She said she discovered something else as well.

“We have learned that if the kids help us make something they are more apt to try it. Not only do we get quality time out of it, but they also learn about math, improve small motor skills, and learn about healthy choices.”

And when learning is fun, kids seem to want to repeat the process as often as possible which is something Russell has found out, as the holidays near and the kids’ enthusiasm increases.

“The kids love it. In fact, they sometimes annoy me with ‘Is it time to make stuff,'” laughed Russell.

There is another benefit to encouraging children to help out in the kitchen: increased production. Once they get the gist of how to measure, add, stir, and shape, those little hands can be quite the assets.

Russell, who is a year-round, avid baker, admitted there might be a hint of an ulterior motive when her son, Noah, 12 and step daughter, Gabby, 10, join her at the kitchen counter. “I include the kids for a lot of reasons. It cuts down on all the work involved, and they have fun helping put it all together.”

The holidays are about giving after all

Sharing goodies that were made with happy hands and warm hearts certainly gives the holiday season meaning. Food made for a gathering, or shared with love ones is a large part of how we convey our festive spirit, and appreciation for those with whom we celebrate each holiday. Russell’s family is dedicated to sharing as well.

“Every year we make something. Whether its cookie bags, or candy boxes, we always make something delicious,” said Russell.

When it comes to baked goods, Berube said that baking with her children, 5-year-old Lydia and 2-1/2-year-old Gabriel created the opportunity to show them what it means to give from the heart. While four-month-old Solomon isn’t quite up to helping just yet, he will undoubtedly be a welcomed addition to the cooking team in the Berube kitchen soon, baking holiday goodies to share.

“We like to make things for a handful of close neighbors and I think it is important for children to learn the giving process. They also feel pride when we hand over a tupperware of goodies that they helped make,” said Berube.

A little mess never hurt anyone

Life skills, tradition, and quality time are certainly some of the top reasons for teaching children to cook and bake. Before you just decide to dive into a recipe, there are a few things that both Russell and Berube say are important considerations.

“My advice would be don’t get into it if you have something else to do. Kids have no concept of time when in the kitchen,” Russell said.

And since working in the kitchen is often a messy affair, it is the ideal activity for involving little hands.

“It will get messy, and it will take more time, but it is so worth it,” Berube pointed out. “It took time and lots of cleaning, but my 5-year-old can crack an egg without getting any shell in the bowl, and my 2-year-old can flip a pancake!”

Enjoy the quality time, make some memories, and add to your holiday merriment. Prepare, cook, and bake with your children, grandchildren, or any little ones in your life this holiday season. Share the cheer, and enjoy all your delicious favorites of the season.

“The conversations we have had about food, and all the other things that come up are priceless,” Berube added. “Although they are still so young, and the days are long, the years are short, and before we know it they will be teenagers. Having your children help you make dinner every night may not seem important now, but later on in life it will be the moments you cherish the most!”

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