Farmer Friday: Cooking with Kids
In the corner of Liberty Hill Farm’s cozy kitchen sits a big rocking chair. “I call it the visiting chair,” says Beth Kennett, who farms with her husband Bob and one of their two grown sons. In addition to managing a 110-cow dairy herd and prime bull breeding operation, the family has hosted overnight guests for over 30 years. Visitors come from all around the world, many returning year after year, to experience daily life on the historic farm and enjoy outdoor adventures in and around the beautiful central Vermont valley.
Hearty farmhouse breakfasts and dinners are part of the draw and Beth can often be found in the kitchen cooking for a crowd in the company of whoever has landed in the visiting chair. “That is one of the most used chairs in the house,” Beth notes with a chuckle. “Guest children will get up early and sit curled up in their jammies watching me cook breakfast. Parents come downstairs wondering where their kid is.”
Beth is known for her from-scratch, not fancy but thoroughly delicious food like moist pumpkin coffee cake, rich corn pudding and Turkey Pot Pie topped with her signature flaky Cheddar biscuits. When she first started welcoming guests to the farm, Beth was a little anxious about what she was going to offer them to eat. She recalls her neighbor telling her, “They’re coming to a Vermont farm for Vermont farm cooking. Just serve them real Vermont cooking done well.”
One of Beth’s constant companions in the kitchen is her granddaughter Ella, the eldest child of son David and his wife, Asia, who just had their second baby in early May. Ella is now four but she’s been “helping” her Grammy in the kitchen and playing hostess to farm guests since she was two. When guests arrive, her grandmother says, “She runs to the door to welcome them, holding out her little hand to shake hands.” In the kitchen, Ella has her own apron and cooking tools and pushes her chair over the counter to climb up to help. Having this little assistant in the kitchen “is absolutely the best,” Beth says. “You just can’t get any better than that.”
As Ella has grown, Beth has guided her to help participate safely and successfully. Here is a helpful infographic on developmental stages and what tasks kids can do best at different ages with recipes. Nowadays, Ella loves to measure out cupfuls, stir, and help roll and pat and even use a cutter to press out her grandmother’s tender Cheddar biscuits. “She adores mac and cheese, too,” says Beth, “and she’s just big enough now to grate the cheese herself, while I cook the noodles and stir it on the stove.” This is their favorite quick stove-top version!
Another of Ella’s favorites is chocolate chip cookies. “She has had the recipe memorized since she was 2 ½,” says her grandmother. “She makes cookies with me about once a week and it’s not about eating them. She loves making cookies to share with the guys in the barn, like Daddy and Grandpa, and also to offer a plate to guests.” Ella is so intent on helping and sharing food, Beth recounts proudly, “Bob says, ‘There you go, the next generation.’”
Cooking Tips for Kids of All Ages:
- Practice food safety. Good cooks of all ages always wash their hands before cooking and should wait until a dish is done before sampling to help prevent illness.
- Expect spills and messes. Parents and caregivers should expect spills and messes. Have kids help with the cleanup so they can understand the importance of cleaning up after themselves.
- Keep it quick and simple. When dealing with short attention spans, assign quick, simple jobs and give clear direction. It’s best to assign tasks as they go, otherwise kids may become distracted and focused on the future tasks.
- Encourage tasting. Encourage children to taste the foods they’ve prepared. Expanding palates is one of the key benefits to child-involved food preparation.
Dip into Fun
This pair of yogurt dips is fun for kids to help stir together and they also add a nice protein boost to snack time. Either of these can also be frozen in small paper drink cups (such as Dixie cups) to make mini yogurt pops. Let them freeze partway and then insert wooden craft sticks as holders. When frozen solid, cut paper cups from pops (adults) and get licking (kids)!
- Use 1 cup Greek-style, plain, vanilla or fruit-flavored yogurt.
- Mix in 1/4 cup fruit preserve or jam of choice, or applesauce.
- Serve with animal or graham crackers, apple or pear slices, strawberries, chunked pineapple or melon.
- Use 1 cup plain Greek-style yogurt.
- Sift over it 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon.
- Add 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup or honey and whisk together.
- Serve with apple or pear slices, strawberries, pretzels, animal or graham crackers.