Kids on the Side

The holidays are upon us, and most parents greet the season like a turkey staring down the barrel of a musket. Between the stresses of crowded shopping malls, over-excited kids, too much entertaining and the never-ending cooking, we sometimes lose the joy of the season.


Bay Area Parent can’t help you with your shopping, nor can we offer to take Uncle Hank and Aunt Helen off your hands for a few days. But we can help you rediscover the joys of cooking – especially if you can get your kids to help – as well as the joys of complaint-free dining.


As our Thanksgiving present to our readers, we asked three notable local chefs – and “cooking with kids” experts – to offer up of their favorite kid-friendly side dish recipes, with guarantees that these will please even the pickiest palate – whether it is 2 or 92.


Gobble Up!


– Peggy Spear, Editor



Stephanie O’Dea

Slow-cooker Candied Sweet Potatoes


This classic Thanksgiving treat is perfect for young helpers. This version can go into the slow cooker. Older school-aged children can peel and slice the sweet potato with assistance. If your kitchen helpers are on the young side, prepare the sweet potato yourself (this can be done up to two days ahead of cooking day, with the slices stored in a zippered bag in the refrigerator), and have the “dumpable” ingredients assembled.



  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 7 to 8 sweet potatoes or yams, peeled and sliced to 1/2-inch thick
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup mini marshmallows


Use a 4-quart slow cooker. Have your child rub butter on the inside bottom and sides of your removable stoneware. Put the sweet potatoes inside. Add the orange juice, vanilla, cinnamon, brown sugar, and salt. Toss to coat – always a favorite with the kids! Cover and cook on low for six to seven hours, or on high for three to four hours. When the sweet potatoes have reached the desired tenderness, carefully scoop (this is a grown-up job) into an oven-safe serving dish (Pyrex, Corningware), and allow children to top with marshmallows. Have children stand far back, and place the dish into the oven and broil for three to five minutes, or until the marshmallows have begun to brown.


Stephanie O’Dea, a former calendar editor for Bay Area Parent, is the author of Make It Fast, Cook It Slow: The Big Book of Everyday Slow Cooking. She lives on the San Francisco Peninsula with her family. She blogs at



Lynda Rexroat

Butternut Squash Soup


This is a naturally sweet appetizer or main dish, and kids will love seeing how to blend the vegetable into a soup. They can help by scooping out the squash seeds and helping to chop up the leeks.



  • 3 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 medium butternut squash (3/12 pounds) halved and seeded
  • 2 large leeks (white part only) cleaned thoroughly and chopped
  • 1 tsp. ginger minced or to taste
  • 1 tsp. curry powder or to taste
  • 6 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock or (4 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups whipping cream)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh parsley


Preheat oven to 400º. Bake the butternut squash (with seeds discarded) on a lightly oiled baking sheet upside down for about one hour, until the squash can be pierced easily with a fork; or in a microwave oven using a glass baking dish with 1/2-inch of water in the bottom.


Cover with a paper towel. Cook 12 to 15 minutes. Allow to cool, then scoop out the pulp and discard the skin. Set aside. Melt the butter in a large stock pot.


Over medium heat, add leeks, cook until tender. Add the ginger and curry, if desired. Stir in chicken broth and the pulp of the squash. Bring to a boil and then reduce to cook, stirring and breaking up the squash with a spoon, for about 20 minutes. Then, puree in a blender until smooth. Return the mixture to the pot and add the cream, whisking until thoroughly blended. Bring to a boil and then remove from heat. Ladle soup into bowls and sprinkle with the fresh parsley. Serve with fresh bread and butter.


Walnut Creek’s Lynda Rexroat runs Lets Get Kids Cooking, a popular class offered through East Bay recreation programs. Along with some tasty recipes, her classes teach kids nutrition, kitchen safety and food storage. Visit her Web site at She recently formed the Cooking with Kid’s Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that will help take her cooking and nutrition classes into underprivileged communities and schools in Contra Costa County.



Chef Gigi Gaggero

Cold Green Beans and Walnuts with Lemon Vinaigrette


Lemons are a wonderful addition to any meal during the holidays, and even a little bit of zest will add a distinctly kid-friendly taste – a plus when your talking about anything green. Plus, this is a simple dish that young kids can help prepare with ease.



  • 1 1/2 pounds green beans, trimmed and microwave in a vented baggie for four minutes
  • 1 Winter lemon
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. minced shallot
  • 2/3 cup walnut pieces, toasted
  • Salt and pepper to taste


Zest lemon, and set zest aside. Cut lemon in half. Squeeze enough juice to measure 2 tablespoons; transfer to small bowl. Whisk in mustard, then oil and shallots. Season with salt and pepper.


Combine beans, walnuts and lemon zest strands in large bowl. Add dressing; toss to coat. Season salad to taste with salt and pepper and chill before serving.


Garnet Yams with Maple Syrup, Walnuts and Apple Cider Raisins


Maple syrup at dinner? That ingredient alone is sure to entice young chefs. Naturally sweet yams are dressed up with the syrup, nuts and raisins for a delicious side dish.



  • 1/2 cup brown raisins
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup apple cider
  • 5 pounds garnet yams or other yams (red-skinned sweet potatoes), peeled, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
  • 3/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups walnut pieces, toasted
  • 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper, to taste
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon


Combine brown raisins, golden raisins, and apple cider in small bowl; toss to blend. Let soak at least 30 minutes.


Toast walnuts on a cookie sheet in the oven. Set aside.


Cook yams in a large pot of boiling salted water until just barely tender, about eight minutes. Using a large slotted spoon, transfer yams to a baking sheet to cool. Salt and pepper them.


Meanwhile, bring 3/4 cup maple syrup, 1/2 cup brown sugar and 1/4 cup butter to boil in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring until brown sugar dissolves. Boil two minutes. Be very careful as this can boil over. Finish with a squeeze of 1/2 lemon, stir.


Butter a 15x10x2-inch glass baking dish. Drain raisins, and in very large bowl, add cooked yams, then maple syrup mixture and toasted walnut pieces. Toss gently to coat evenly, being careful to keep yams intact.


Transfer yam mixture to prepared baking dish. This can be made two hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature. Or, bake in a preheated oven at 350°F, uncovered until syrup is thick and bubbling, about 55 minutes.


Chef Gigi Gaggero is the founder of Kids Culinary Adventures in Belmont, a professional cooking school for children and teens where math, science, reading and art mix with cooking. For more information on classes, parties or camps, visit




Tips for Little Chefs


When cooking with little helpers, be sure to remind them to:

  • Read the recipe.
  • Follow the recipe.
  • Wash your hands.
  • Pull back hair, if long. Remember not to touch your face or hair when cooking. If you do, quickly wash your hands again.
  • Use the back of your hand or arm to itch yourself. To cough, turn your head away from the food and cough or sneeze into your elbow.
  • Use a timer. Take it with you if you have to leave the kitchen.
  • Have potholders out and ready to use.
  • Always get help (have Mom/Dad/Grandma in the kitchen with you so they can lift heavy hot dishes).
  • Wear an apron (put the towel on the tie string of your apron).
  • Get organized and have all equipment and ingredients out or ready to use.
  • Make sure all ingredients are fresh.
  • When using knives, make sure they are sharp enough, and ALWAYS have a grown-up with you when you are slicing something.
  • Use a stool so that you can see down into the pot or skillet you are using.


– From “Let’s Get Kids Cooking”
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