Holidays Are Delicious: The Creative Family Kitchen During the Holiday Season

Ginger Carlson
December 14, 2017

Holiday magic often begins in the kitchen. Creating traditions is yet another way to build creativity, and the holiday season is a particularly wondrous time to begin a new tradition or rediscover an old one. So as you step into your kitchen this month, involve your children, explore together, and have fun!

Tips for Holiday Cooking

Make it simple. As with anything, if it is too complicated to keep up with, chances are good you won't. When cooking with kids, start with simple recipes and creations that are not too involved in order to minimize that all too familiar feeling of being overwhelmed by the holidays.

Keep it festive. Play holiday music while you are cooking or bring some of your holiday decorations into your kitchen. If you have room, set up a place in your kitchen where family members can take a break from cooking to make decorations for the windows or ones that can hang from the lights.

Let it snow! Sifting flour, dusting with powder sugar, and other holiday cooking can often result in mess making. Be okay with a mess for the sake of holiday fun and creativity.

Things to Make and Do


Most families have a favorite sugar cookie or gingerbread recipe for using holiday cookie cutters with. Once you have made a batch, and before decorating, pop them in the freezer for use all month long. When packing a lunch, include a small container of icing and decorating items or pull out a few at a time after dinner for a special creative dessert.


Marzipan originates from Persia and was introduced to Europe by way of the Turks. It is now widely used throughout Europe during the holiday season to make decorative sweets. Mix in the appropriate food colorings (natural, organic ones are available in many natural food stores or by SeelecT here: and you have a wonderful edible play-dough for your children to make animal scenes, or other festive and creative desserts. Try making a yule log cake and use marzipan to add your favorite woodland creatures and flora to the scene.


Tamales are a traditional Mexican Christmas dish that are sometimes too spicy for children, and even overwhelming for adults to try and organize. Tamales are actually easier than their reputation leads them to be; I recommend everyone give them a try as the steps are relatively simple: 

  1. Make masa by combining 3½ cups vegetable stock, 1 cup butter or olive oil, 1 T. salt, and 6 cups masa harina flour. Beat until the dough is a soft, paste consistency.
  2. Soak dried cornhusks for about 30 minutes. You can also use banana leaves, if you prefer. When soft, spread desired amount of masa on cornhusk. Top with filling/topping of your choice. Let your kids experiment with what goes into their tamal. Try chocolate pieces, favorite fresh, frozen, or dried fruits, grated carrots, zucchini, or beets, corn, or cheese. Serve with your favorite cream topping, sauce or salsa.
  3. Wrap your tamales however you would like your little presents to be: roll them up with bows on either end (you can use pieces of the cornhusks to make small ties), fold them over and tie in the middle, or however else your little present makers want them to be.
  4. Place tamales on end in a pan (unless they are tied on both ends - then you can just toss them in), and steam for about 5 minutes.

Enjoy trying your hand at this wonderful tradition and let your kids make it their own.

Pie in a Pumpkin

Before there were pie crusts, there was the original pumpkin pie, or custard as it were. This holiday season, connect with where that pie goodness comes from and bake your pumpkin pie directly in the gourd it is made from. To begin, cut the top off of a sugar pie pumpkin and scoop out the seeds and pulp. Bake pumpkin in 425 degree oven for about 40 minutes. Remove and fill with your favorite pumpkin pie recipe and bake at pie recipe temperature. Once done (when your knife inserted into the middle comes out clean), remove from the oven and let cool. Slice pumpkin and pie together and top with a dollop of whipped cream for a special treat.

Gingerbread Houses & Vehicles

Making gingerbread is a tried and true tradition in our house, and every year the results become more and more creative. While there are many kits now available for making gingerbread houses, trains, or people, there is definitely something to be said for making your own. Baking your own is especially pride-inducing for children and it is actually not as difficult as you might think. Begin by making a batch of gingerbread using your favorite recipe for gingerbread cookies. Before baking, cut out pieces for your house: four walls, two roof pieces, and any other add-ons your kids would like to create such as fence pieces, lampposts, traffic signs, trees, or people. Bake according to cookie recipe. Once baked, resist the urge to put your house together right away and instead let it sit out for a few days to make sure it hardens enough so that it won't fall apart during construction. Then, mix 1 lb. powdered sugar, 1 tsp. cream of tartar, and 3 egg whites to make gingerbread glue. Place glue into a Ziploc bag with the corner cut off for a kid-friendly decorating bag. Use immediately as it hardens fast. Decorate with nuts, seeds, raisins, or a variety of candies of your child's choosing. For very young children, adults can apply the glue and let the child add the accouterments. However you choose to do it, it will surely be a fabulous source of creative fun for the whole family!


Bread is a common holiday treat that easily lends itself to creating together. Nothing says holiday for me like braiding Nana's Coffee Bread (see recipe at the end of this article) into a wreath and decorating it to suit my mood. If that is feeling too complicated for you, use quartered biscuits to make a tree and cover with your favorite blend of sugar, maple syrup, raisins and cinnamon, or for an easy bread foray with kids, try the pretzel recipe below.

Cheese Pretzels

  1. Sprinkle ½ teaspoon yeast and ½ teaspoon sugar over 3 Tablespoons warm water. Mix slightly. Watch it "work." Spend some time talking about the yeast "eating" the sugar and needing (like all living things) food (the sugar) and warmth (the water) to grow. If the yeast takes a bit of extra time to work (which ours usually does), act it out! If you could only see us in our kitchen on days when we use yeast -- we, as yeast, don't just "work", we bounce, explode, and chicken dance all at once! It's quite the sight.
  2. Add ½ c. flour AND 2 Tablespoons finely grated cheese (optional)
  3. Stir and Knead.
  4. Cut into 3-4 pieces
  5. Roll into "worms", and shape (hearts, trees, letters, numbers, faces, turtle doves, etc)
  6. Brush with milk or a beaten egg
  7. Sprinkle with salt, sesame seeds, or other topping of your choice
  8. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes


Warm drinks are definitive for the holiday season. While it is always wonderful to see the emergence of eggnog in the stores this time of year, before stocking up on it try to make your own. In our house, we always have great fun exploring the ways of nutnog. Blend your soaked/sprouted almonds, cashews, or other favorite nuts and use a sprouting bag or other small straining device to strain out the nut meal. Add sweetener, nutmeg, cinnamon and other favorite spices to make your own nog. For other drink explorations, try variations of hot chocolate: add spices, crushed candy cane or essence of peppermint. Keep a monthly tally of all the ways you have tried it and then take a family vote of the favorites. So get on in there, and begin or revive a tradition. Cook up some holiday magic together!

Nana's Swedish Coffee Bread

This is the recipe that was passed down orally in my family from my Great-great-Nana from Sweden. I've written it here as it was told to me. I've added some explanation in parentheses to explain the "Nana-isms".) Enjoy!

Dissolve 2 cakes of yeast and a Tablespoon of sugar in warm water. Let it stand until it works (until the yeast is frothy, about 5 minutes).


Better than a cup of sugar (which means a little more than a cup)
1 ½ cubes (sticks) butter
1-2 cups of boiling water
Dash of salt
1 large can of evaporated milk
4 eggs or their equivalent
Flour to thicken (just enough flour to make a dough that is still a bit to goopy to work with your hands).

Add yeast mixture. Add more flour to thicken (enough for a soft bread dough that is "kneadable") and 2 T. cardamom. Stir. Workout on floured board. Place in lightly greased bowl and cover with a towel. Let rise to double. Braid in straight loaves or circular wreaths. Let rise (in a warm location for about an hour). Brush tops with (a mixture of) milk and (melted) butter. Bake at 350-375 degrees for 30-40 minutes. Brush tops with milk and sprinkle with sugar and nuts.

Enjoy with family and friends!

Ginger Carlson, MA Ed, is a speaker, education consultant, and the author of Child of Wonder: Nurturing Creative and Naturally Curious Children. She leads creativity-building workshops throughout the US for parents and educators. Please visit her at to learn more, see her blogs about living creatively and cooking with children, or sign up for Wonderwise, her free email newsletter.

Originally published in 2008. 

From the Parents

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