Food plus Family plus Friends equals Fun

by Debra L. Karplus

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The kids are home. Not just yours, but their friends are at your house, too. It's chilly and rainy outside. "We're bored," they whine, "and hungry." Should you pick up some burgers and fries at their favorite fast food spot, and then take them all to a movie? The temptation to round up the kids and load up the minivan is compelling. But how much is all of that going to cost? And where is the "quality time" in such an outing? Perhaps this is an opportunity to be a bit more innovative and thrift-minded, Mom and Dad!

A group meal preparation can be a creative and fun family activity and the rewards will be tasty and possibly nutritious. If you keep some basic ingredients well stocked, you will be ready anytime to herd the kids into the kitchen and get busy. Include the kids, even the little ones, in the meal planning. Both girls and boys should learn some elementary food skills as young as possible. Baked nachos, vegetable salad, fruit salad and punch can be fun to prepare and be a well-balanced meal for all ages of kids and grown-ups, too.

1. Start with the main event.

Your main course is likely to take the longest since it involves using the oven, so prepare it first. Baked nachos with toppings can easily be assembled by even very young children. Spread tortilla chips on a baking tray or cookie sheet. Older children who can be trusted with a small knife can dice tomatoes, onions, olives, and grate or shred cheese. Everyone can select which section of the nachos will be theirs and can customize with the toppings they prefer. Bake in a pre-heated oven at about 350 degrees until the cheese is melted. If you have more time and would rather make a fancier main course, make pizza instead. You can even make the crust from scratch. The kids will be very proud of their individual masterpieces.

2. Don't desert dessert.

While the pizza or nachos are baking, the kids can be working on dessert, with your supervision. Freshly baked cookies create a wonderful aroma in the kitchen. Slice-and-bake or pre-mixed cookie dough is quickest to fix, but making your cookies from scratch is usually less expensive. Banana splits are also easy to make and a clever way to sneak a little fruit into a sweet treat. But, if you are more health-minded, fruit salad makes a nourishing dessert. The kids can cut cubes of fruit and each child can make an individual fruit salad choosing only fruits they like. They can even add plain yogurt, shredded coconut, and a variety of nuts for additional color, flavor and nutrition.

3. Eat your veggies.

A meal is not complete without some veggies. A vegetable salad can be fixed just like the fruit salad. If everyone can agree on ingredients, you can make one big salad. But, kids may prefer to make their own smaller salads with vegetables that one of the more responsible kids has pre-cut. Salad dressing is easy to create with some basic cooking staple foods. For an extra hungry bunch, raw veggies with a sour cream dip and some added herbs makes for great nibbling before the meal is complete.

4. A cocktail with your dinner?

Wash down this yummy meal with a beverage, but be more daring serving "mixed drinks" instead of soda. A popular fruit juice such as orange or pineapple can be combined with ginger ale or another non-caffeinated drink. The carbonation gives the drink a kick that most kids will savor.

Making the table setting look pretty can be the role of children, big or small. Little ones can draw colorful placemats. Pinking shears can make the edges look ornamental. One needn't be a master of origami to fold the napkins into interesting shapes. Empty toilet paper rolls can be cut into thirds and decorated and used as napkin rings.

Turning meal preparation into a fun family activity can entertain your sons and daughters and their friends of any ages. If this idea catches on in your family, you might consider enlisting the aid of your children in writing the weekly grocery list. If you use your imagination, you too can select more new and exciting clever kid kitchen creations.

Debra is an occupational therapist, accountant, teacher and freelance writer. She is a writer for Advance for Occupational Therapy Practitioners. She also writes for Grand Magazine, has some items (fiction and non fiction) selling on (kindle), has written several travel articles for the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette and several articles for and volunteers as a money mentor for the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension money mentoring program. Learn more about her at

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