There are no shortage of reasons to get your kids involved in the rituals and traditions of Thanksgiving; it can inspire a love of cooking, get them to appreciate their friends and family or just give them tons of practice playing the “Get Beers For Dad” game. We asked two James Beard winners – food writer and cookbook author Tanya Steel and Michael Anthony, Executive Chef at New York City’s Gramercy Tavern – how they celebrate with (and feed) their own kids this time of year.
What are some can’t miss Thanksgiving dishes for kids, and do you ever simplify the classics so they go over better?
Tanya Steel: I would never simplify them. One of the reasons the classics are classic is that they’re generally familiar flavors and textures, so 99-percent of kids will eat at least a few things on the table. If you have a picky eater and don’t want to make Thanksgiving a showdown, serve them the fail safe that every kid loves: the turkey leg. The Fred Flintstone in all of us loves gnawing on a large turkey leg.
Michael Anthony: We usually start off with some kind of soup – squash or maybe parsnip. We’ll make the base pretty tame so that the kids will eat it, and then we garnish it with mushrooms or pumpkin seeds or chestnuts for the adults.
“The Fred Flintstone in all of us loves gnawing on a large turkey leg.”
How do you get kids engaged in the act of cooking the meal?
Steel: It depends on their ages. Little kids can rip apart lettuce, make salad dressing in a jar or stir cake batter; older ones can mash sweet potatoes, help assemble the stuffing and – if they’re responsible (generally 10 or older) – they can cook as much as you feel comfortable with, so long as you’re by their side.
Anthony: By going to the green market with them. This time of year is the last hurrah for the farmers and there’s a really festive feeling at the market. It’s a great time to get them out and have them make discoveries and look at weird vegetables – things like parsnips, brussel sprouts on the stem, rutabagas or sunchokes. When kids pick what’s on the menu, they’re more likely to try it.
“When kids pick what’s on the menu, they’re more likely to try it.”
Do you go in for any mealtime traditions, like telling the Thanksgiving story?
Steel: When the kids are little, we ask them to tell it to us. I love encouraging them to speak and engage in the family conversation, and it’s always funny to hear their interpretation of the historic events.
Anthony: My wife’s family has a tradition of telling jokes. It’s people from a pretty wide variety of cities and backgrounds, and they all settle in after the meal is done. My own family is on the couch watching football by then, but her family hangs in there, tells jokes and really makes the most of each other’s company.
“Tongs, tongs and tongs,” says Steel. “I use them for just about everything. And a sense of humor – that’s the most important tool I use in the kitchen.”
“Having a blender is key to making a big batch of soup and, for me, Vitamix is the one,” says Anthony. “It’s designed to handle hot liquid, so it doesn’t explode when you turn it on, and it turns at a high velocity so you can make an amazing soup.”
If you haven’t already taken stock of the rest of your Thanksgiving kitchen gear, check out our guide for everything from roasting pans to cocktail recipes.