Vanessa, also known as Chefdruck, is a foodie, writer and mom living in Chicago with her husband and four children. Whether you're planning a holiday dinner party or small impromptu get together with friends, Vanessa has easy menu ideas and helpful tips to minimize your time in the kitchen so you have more time to spend with your friends and family. Vanessa's personal blog can be found at chefdruck.com
My 7-year-old gets off the bus at 3:30 p.m. every day and skips towards me with a big smile, thrilled to be home after a long day navigating the hallways of her elementary school. But as soon as she walks in the door, her smile disappears and she begins to beg to watch TV and eat cookies.
Faced with the prospect of tackling homework and heading out to various after school activities, my daughter would much rather collapse on the couch. Unfortunately, I've found that vegging out immediately after a long day leaves her cranky and short-tempered instead of reviving her energy.
In order to avoid the TV temptation, I like to welcome her with a fun activity centered around a snack to help her relax. I find this especially helpful when she has a friend over for a play date. The combined whining power of two tired elementary school kids can be difficult to overcome if you're not prepared.
I recently put my daughter and her friend to work in staging an after school tea party, complete with animal cheese sandwiches and sweet treats.
1. To get the party started right, we took out a few pieces of fancy china to set the table.
2. Next, I set the girls to work with preparing tea sandwiches. Since smoked salmon and cucumbers would probably not be a big hit with this group, I armed them with miniature cookie cutters and some American cheese slices. They created cute, little hearts and bunnies that we then set out on Town House Crackers.
4. I like to tempt my kids with a fruit and veggie option at every meal, so we added some color to the savory plate with some bright baby carrots and with some juicy green grapes to the sweets plate.
5. Once the table was fit for a princess, the girls drew up some invitations for my younger children. The special treatment alerted them to be on their best behavior for our fancy tea.
6. Soon we were all around the table, enjoying a table filled with a variety of fun snacks. Our tea was ice cold water served in tiny china cups.
Simple kitchen chores can help young kids practice hand-eye coordination and learn about shapes, colors, smells and tastes before dinner. As children grow older, they are able to learn about recipes which can challenge their reading and math skills, too. Plus, cooking is also a great way for them to try new foods which is always a challenge.
Being in the kitchen can also teach kids to plan ahead, cooperate with others and follow through with a task. Most importantly, your time in the kitchen can provide you with invaluable time together. With a pinch of love and a dash of imagination, you can turn your kitchen into a learning laboratory.
Children develop skills at different rates, so it's important to have an adult introduce children to skills that match their ability level. In general:
If you have children around the house who often choose snacks without supervision, consider adopting a few tricks to help them pick. For example:
Here is one more final after school activity that will give your "little artist" and their friends a chance to express him/herself with their own Rice Krispies Treats artwork!