Mamma's Turkey Cooking Tips for Beginners Like Me

Mamma’s Turkey Tips for Beginners (Like Me)

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This post may contain advertisements and/or links for products and services that I value. I offer recommendations to products and/or services that I find helpful in my own life as a mom. I may receive a commission based on viewer purchases or interactions with these ads. You will NOT be charged any extra money. All prices will stay the same for you whether your purchase items/services through links found on this site or not! 

Updated 2/13/2019

My mom is one of those people who make amazing turkey every year for Thanksgiving.

Whenever we have potluck Thanksgiving dinners, she’s always asked to cook the turkey. Year after year. Turkey after turkey.

And it’s always so delicious! Her turkeys are moist inside, and yet crispy on the edges.

I looked forward to her turkey every Thanksgiving…. Until I got married and moved off to Idaho. I couldn’t always get home for Thanksgiving. I was faced with a real dilemma- How in the heck am I supposed to cook a turkey for my own Thanksgiving dinner??

It’s not like you can have Thanksgiving without a turkey!!

But I quickly figured out that my mom made it look much easier than it really is.

  • My first turkey got burnt on the outside but was not fully cooked inside.
  • My second turkey was cooked at least, but it was as dry… Like nasty wannabe jerky. Yuck.

So I finally swallowed my pride and asked my mom for help. Thanksgiving 2018 is gonna be better!!!

I told her that nobody made turkey like her and I needed some help.

Do you know what she said???

Nothing!

She just laughed!!

Yep, laughed- because her turkeys are SOOOO easy. In her loving words, “Maybe you should have your toddler help you get it done right!”

Here’s what she told me, and a step by step view of how my first attempt went:

  • Buy the cheapest, fattest turkey you can find, a turkey bag, and a turkey pan.

Gibson Home 89134.02 Broxton 2 Piece Non-Stick Turkey Roaster, Black

REYNOLDS G10510 Oven Bag 2 CT

McCormick Garlic Salt, 9.5 oz

McCormick California Style Onion Powder, 2.62 oz

One shopping trip, everything you need. Done and done!

Oh well, you’ll also need butter, garlic salt, onion powder, and pepper. Make sure you grab those things too if you don’t have them at home!

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  • Defrost the turkey.

Most turkeys come with directions on how to defrost.

My mom recommended putting the turkey in the fridge for up to 3 days to ensure that it thaws completely or putting the turkey in a cold water bath for several hours before cooking.

In my case, I put the turkey in my sink with cold water in the morning the day before Thanksgiving. (Always clean out the sink well before putting the turkey in there!)

It took most of the day for the turkey to defrost. Then I put the turkey in the fridge overnight and it was all ready to cook Thanksgiving Day!

  • Preheat the oven.

Just follow the directions on the package! My turkey cooked at 325 degrees.

  • Rinse the bird, removing the extras inside.

Usually there are things like the turkey neck, the heart, and the gizzard (what is that anyways??) inside the hallow of the turkey. Remove those before cooking.

My turkey had a turkey neck and a package of turkey drippings.

Well… at least that’s what I thought until after I cooked the turkey.

Once we cut open the turkey and started removing the meat, I found the other extras hidden inside the turkey. Just like my mom said they would be. Woops.

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  • Place the turkey bag in the disposable turkey pan, then put the bird in the bag, leaving the bag open.

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You’re all set to season the bird!

  • Sprinkle garlic salt, onion powder, and pepper generously on all surfaces of the turkey, turning the bird as you go to reach all areas.

This will add delicious flavor to the exterior of your turkey.

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My mom said the she even seasons inside the hallow of the bird sometimes! I didn’t worry about that this year. I’m just a beginner after all.

I tried to use one hand to turn the bird (not easy!) and one hand to season with to avoid cross contamination. I didn’t want to stop to wash my hands several extra times. Nobody wants raw turkey juices on their cooking stuff!

It didn’t always work, so I did have to wash my hands a few extra times during the process of turning the bird to season all sides.

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I did run into one hiccup.

The first seasoning I applied to the turkey (onion powder) stuck to the turkey because the bird was moist.

But the second seasoning I applied (garlic salt) didn’t stick because the onion powder was already covering the bird.

Solution? I added butter flavored cooking spray to help the other seasonings stick.

  • Add big chunks of butter all over the top of the turkey.

Be generous- Just like Paula Deen!

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  • Tie the bag shut and place the turkey in the oven.

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I needed to adjust my racks to make the turkey fit. Make sure the plastic turkey bag does not directly touch the top or sides of the oven.

I will always choose a turkey with an internal thermometer that lets me know when the turkey is done cooking.

That was my saving grace! I would be totally lost without that little red thermometer.

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My mom took it to the next level!

She told me to turn the bird upside down. That way, when the yummy juices collect at the bottom during cooking, the breasts and other meat get nice and soaked in all that flavor! 

It also keeps the turkey from drying out.

The only down side is that you can’t see the little red thermometer this way. 

I chose to leave my turkey right side up this year to avoid over-cooking. I still need the little red thermometer for help! Maybe next year I’ll be advanced enough to try this!

  • Use the turkey package to determine how long the bird should cook.

My turkey was about 14 pounds. The package estimated it would take 3.5 to 4 hours to cook.

Another bit of clever ingenuity from my mom- check the bird a little earlier than the package recommends. Keep checking the bird every 15 minutes as it gets closer to the recommended time. This will ensure that the bird doesn’t stay in the oven for any extra time- which could cause it to dry out.

This tip saved me this year!

Kick back and relax because this takes a while. Or you know, slave over the rest of your Thanksgiving meal… Whatever applies to your situation. 😊

Watch for the red turkey thermometer to pop out. You’re almost done!

My turkey went into the oven at 8:20am, so I planned to start checking it at 11:20am. That’s 30 minutes sooner than the package recommended.

By some strange luck and due to my own impatience, I started checking my turkey at 10:30am instead of 11:20.

To my surprise, the turkey looked almost done!

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By 10:40, the thermometer popped and the turkey was done! That’s only 2 hours and 20 minutes of cooking time!

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Come to find out, the package on the turkey and the package on the turkey bag had different cooking instructions.

The turkey bag instructions were more accurate. That’s weird…. Watch out for that when you cook this year!

  • Once the thermometer pops, cut open the top of your turkey bag.

If your turkey needs more color, allow the turkey to cook for another 15 minutes or so without the turkey bag in order to brown the top of the turkey.

This also helps the skin of your turkey get nice and crispy!
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It looks great and tastes delicious!

Your turkey will be a show stopper at your next Thanksgiving party!

My family loved the turkey! They ate the entire thing, down to the bones. Thanks mom!!!

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Fun tip from my mom- The turkey drippings are all contained inside your turkey bag. The drippings make excellent turkey gravy for your Thanksgiving mashed potatoes!

All you have to do is strain the turkey drippings and add a roux (flour mixed with water or butter). Bring it up to a rolling boil and you’re done! Delicious, homemade gravy!

Wow, I’m starting to think my mom knows everything.

I hope my genius mom’s tips simplify your turkey-cooking this year!

It really saved my Thanksgiving!

Cheers to people who are smarter than me who share their wisdom!!!!

Sincerely,

Mrs. S

Share this post with anyone who needs a simple Thanksgiving this year!

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Top Recipes To Cook With Your Kids To Teach Life Long Cooking Skills

Top 9 Recipes to Cook with your Kids To Teach Life Long Cooking Skills

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This post may contain advertisements and/or links for products and services that I value. I offer recommendations to products and/or services that I find helpful in my own life as a mom. I may receive a commission based on viewer purchases or interactions with these ads. You will NOT be charged any extra money. All prices will stay the same for you whether your purchase items/services through links found on this site or not! 

Updated 2/6/2019

Every day, I have the same two big items on my to do list- spend time with the kids and make dinner.

I love to get both done at once!

But I was also getting sick of eating cereal for dinner… since that was the only food my kids knew how to help me “make”.

We decided to branch out. I realized that if I really wanted to have more options of what to cook with my kids, I needed to teach them some basic cooking skills! I was excited about this idea, since I knew these skills would become valuable life lessons!!

And I could eat more variety of delicious meals, NOW!

Here are some of my favorite meals or deserts to cook with my kids’ help… along with the life lesson that my kids learned from each cooking experience!

girl eating cereal in white ceramic bowl on table

1) Anything out of a box.

I know, I know…. These things are rarely healthy. But they are easy and yummy! And a great experience for your kids.

And when they go to college, these will probably be their staple food items anyways, so they might as well know how to cook them.

Food out of a box is the best preparation for reading and following a recipe for a child who is beginning to cook. 

It is simplified, has few ingredients, and is easy to follow. Making these easy food items gives kids confidence that they can make more complex foods by following a recipe.

But that’s not all! Kids also learn concepts like:

  • checking to make sure you have the ingredients before you begin cooking,
  • measuring ingredients,
  • substituting ingredients as needed (my kiddo learned this when we realized we were out of butter so we used applesauce in our cookie dough instead!)
  • having appropriate cleanliness in the kitchen,
  • asking questions as they learn!

Here are some of my favorite boxed foods to prepare with my kids:

  • Brownies
  • Cakes
  • Pudding
  • Cookies
  • Hamburger Helper
  • Pancakes
  • Pasta Salads
  • Mac N Cheese
  • Top Roman (If you’re sick of Top Roman, try adding in fun extras like fresh veggies or meats.)

slice of brownies beside silver strainers

2) Snow Ice Cream

This recipe is usually my kids’ VERY VERY first experience “cooking” with me. They make their own Snow Ice Cream when they are as young as 1 1/2-2 years old.

‘ love it because they get to feel involved and get a taste of making their own food… with absolutely no possibility of getting hurt in the kitchen. No heat, no knives, no worries! 

This recipe is so fun and easy to make! It is seasonal… and dependent on the weather… but if your kids love to make it, you could always substitute shaved ice for the snow.

And of course, (I can’t stress this enough…) make sure your kids are gathering clean snow. 😊

snow-covered tree lot during daytime

Snow Ice Cream

2 cups Clean Snow (or shaved ice)

2-3 Tbsp. Sweetened Condensed Milk

1 drop of Vanilla (or Root Beer Flavoring, or Strawberry Flavoring, or Orange Flavoring, etc…)

First, gather clean snow from outside right after a snowfall. I prefer to set a clean bowl outside during a snowfall. The bowl slowly fills up with perfectly fresh and 100% clean snow. No hoping or guessing that the snow hasn’t been somewhere yucky. If you are going to allow your kids to gather their own snow, this step takes a lot of supervision to make sure the kids aren’t gathering snow from the wrong places.

Second, divide the snow into cups for each child. Add the remaining ingredients and allow the child to stir up his or her ice cream. Add more snow if needed (sometimes the mixture tastes too strong and more snow will remedy this).

That’s it! Ready to eat!

Please note that adding the other ingredients makes the snow more dense than it was to begin with, so you end up with less ice cream than you might think. 2 cups of snow makes about ½ cup of ice cream.

I use this recipe to teach kids the following concepts: 

  • Following mom’s directions in the kitchen
  • Getting creative to make the recipe your own
  • Mixing without spilling
  • Why eating clean food is important (we usually discuss how germs can make us sick and that’s why we wash all the produce mom buys at the store) 

3) Kabobs

people having a barbecue party

Kabobs are so much fun to make with kids!

When kids make kabobs, they learn the following life skills:

  • Early exposure to the concept of being careful because some kitchen tools can hurt you. This is a great pre-lesson before learning to cut with knives.
  • Become familiar with ingredients. Kids learn to recognize and identify a variety of foods that they may cook with later on.
  • More likely to try new foods
  • Choosing between many food options
  • Introduce the concept of cross contamination. Explain that we cook the meat before they touch it so that they don’t cross contaminate fruits and veggies with raw meat.
  • How food changes when it is cooked. Example: raw bell peppers vs. cooked bell peppers.

There are so many options of yummy foods to put on a kabob- cheese, fruit, veggies, meat- so it’s easy to make a healthy kabob that your kids will actually enjoy eating.

Rather than following a strict recipe, I usually just set out all the food options (precooked if necessary) and let me kids go to town spearing their favorite foods. Here are my favorite kabob options.

  • Meat cut into bite sized pieces
    • Beef, chicken, or pork are the most common.
    • I have also cut up lunch meat into squares and allowed my kids to put that on their kabobs.
    • Another nontraditional option is Little Smokies or pieces of hot dogs.
    • Be sure to cook the meat beforehand to avoid kids touching raw meat or cross contaminating other foods.
  • Grapes
  • Strawberries, Raspberries, Blueberries
  • Melon pieces
    • Honeydew, watermelon, or cantaloupe
  • Cheese
    • My kids enjoy when I give them options in various kinds of cheese- such as swiss, mozzarella, or cheddar.
  • Nontraditional fruits- such as apples, orange slices, or chunks of pears- can also be added to kabobs. They are tasty and help kids eat a variety of foods.
  • Any vegetable that you can get away with. I try any and all new veggies that I can possibly skewer on a kabob. This is a great way to trick my kids into trying new foods because they are so excited that they get to spear the food. I’ve done onion, bell peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, squash, and cooked carrots.

When we make kabobs, I cut up all the ingredients, put each thing out on the table in a bowl, and allow the kids to choose what they want on their kabob. They love “spearing” the food onto a kabob stick.

Sometimes, my kids make crazy kabob creations that I wouldn’t necessarily want to try, but they are always very excited. They are more willing to try new things when we make kabobs.

4) Stir Fry or Fried Rice with Veggies

I use stir fry as my child’s first exposure to actual cooking! Here’s why stir fry is the perfect meal to cook when it’s your first time cooking:

  • No measuring ingredients, which means there is no messing up! Stir fry always turns out great (unless you burn it). This is a great confidence-builder for kids who are just learning the skill of cooking! 
  • The child can make it their own. There’s no right or wrong answer to which veggies or meats go into stir fry. This is a great time for creativity! 
  • There’s little technical skill. Just stir to avoid burning!
  • The heat doesn’t have to be turned up all the way. Keep the heat at medium. Even though it will take a little longer, it’s less likely for the child to get a burn. 
  • You can involve kids in a variety of ways.
    • Kids love to add ingredients into the sauté pan as you go.
    • If your child is old enough and responsible enough, you can let them help you cut the veggies or meat into bite sized pieces. If that’s not the case, you can do it before hand. No harm done!
    • If your kids are old enough and responsible enough, they might enjoy stirring the pan while the veggies cook.
    • If your child can handle it, this is a great recipe for him to try ALL on his own!

Ready for your recipe?

Stir Fry: 

First of all, the list of ingredients is optional. Here are some of my favorite options of ingredients to include in stir fry. Pick and choose your favorites!

  • Precooked Rice
  • Soy Sauce or a similar yummy sauce (I’ve substituted General Tsao’s sauce, Orange Chicken Sauce, Kung Pao Sauce, Sweet and Sour Sauce, etc.)
  • Onions
  • Mushrooms
  • Peas
  • Egg
  • Bell Peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Chicken, Beef, or another favorite meat
  • Green Beans
  • Bok Choy
  • Water Chestnuts
  • Sesame Seeds

Cut up all the ingredients into bite sized pieces. My kids love to “measure” to see if the veggies are bite sized by eating a few.

In a large frying pan, cook your meat first.

When your meat is cooked, add any veggies you would like. Stir to avoid burning the food until the veggies are cooked.

Add in your sauce.

You can serve stir fry by itself, over rice, or you can easily make it into fried rice by adding the rice into the sauté pan of veggies and cooking it with an egg.

5) Homemade Pizza

Who doesn’t love pizza? And making it yourself only adds to the fun!

Pizza teaches kids baking skills (which are VERY different from stove top cooking skills) such as:

  • How leavening agents make dough rise,
  • How the cooking process can transform dough into bread (there’s nothing like this when you’re making stir fry!) 
  • Measuring carefully to ensure that the dough turns out right,
  • Rolling out dough,
  • Taking your time!
    • I like to buy premade pizza dough. This cuts down on the prep time and makes my life easier. Sorry kids, you’ll never be bakers. 🙂 

Lucky for me, pizza still teaches some other things too. For example:

  • Creativity
  • Food presentation
  • Spreading ingredients evenly throughout
  • Using an oven- how to set the temperature, preheat the oven, turn on the light to check the food, etc. 
  • How to check to see if food is done baking (golden brown crust, not doughy) 

Here’s your recipe!

Homemade Pizza: 

If you’re cool, use the recipe found here (Courtesy of Sugar Spun Run) to make homemade dough.

If you’re like me, buy some premade dough and skip ahead. 🙂

Canned Spaghetti or Pizza Sauce

Shredded Cheese

Whatever toppings sound yummy!

Spread the pizza dough into a large circle on a sheet tray. If you are making one large pizza, allow each child to decorate a portion of the pizza with toppings.

It can also be fun to make several smaller pizzas so that each child can have his or her own.

The kids can help spread sauce and cheese on the dough.

Offer the kids a variety of toppings to make their pizza unique. Allow them to get creative and make their pizza a piece of art.

Here are a few flavor combinations that can be tasty!

  • Traditional (Marinara sauce, mozzarella, pepperonis, sausage, onion, bell peppers, olives, etc.)
  • Barbeque (BBQ sauce, mozzarella, chicken, bacon, pineapple, onion, etc.)
  • Alfredo (Alfredo Sauce, mozzarella, chicken, bacon, onion, tomato, etc.)
  • Desert Pizza (Chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, marshmallow cream, crushed cookies, crushed Oreos, pie fillings, etc.)

Bake according to the directions on the dough package. Usually 350 degrees for about 15-20 minutes.

6) Fruit Salad

person holding sliced fruit salad on yellow bowl

Fruit Salad is a great way to let your kids practice using a knife by cutting soft fruit with a butter knife. The fruit pieces might not look pretty, but they will taste yummy. And your kid will learn a lot!

When I make fruit salad with my kids, I start by choosing which fruits they can cut themselves. Grapes, melons (after I remove the rind), and berries are easy for kids to cut with a butter knife.

I begin by removing the rind on any melons and then my kids cut the melon into pieces. They cut the grapes in half and strawberries into bite sized pieces.

As your child gets more skilled, allow him to experience more challenges- cutting more difficult fruits until he masters them all! 

That’s it! If you want a little extra pizzazz, you can serve your fruit salad out of a hollowed out watermelon rind. My kids get excited about that.

7) Fruit Pizza

Image result for fruit pizza

If fruit salad is too boring for you, put all those great knife skills to use on a fruit pizza!

  • Teach your kids to use a knife, using the same techniques described above. 
  • Teach creativity and self-expression. 
  • Teach presentation. 
  • Expose kids to unique foods, like kiwi, that they might not try otherwise. 
  • Spread icing using a butter knife.

There are really yummy recipes out there for fruit pizza made entirely from scratch.

However, when I’m cooking with my kids, simple is better.

Fruit Pizza: 

Premade Sugar Cookie Dough

Store Bought Cream Cheese Icing

Fruit

Help the kids roll the dough out into a pizza shape. Bake the cookie according to the directions on the package.

Once the cookie is cool, top the cookie with store-bought cream cheese icing. The kids love to spread the icing over the pizza.

The children can help me cut soft fruits, such as strawberries or kiwi, to put on top of the icing. Let them get creative and make a beautiful design of fruit.

Some of my favorite toppings for fruit pizza include: kiwi, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, almonds, peaches, grapes, mandarin oranges, and banana.

8) Quesadillas

Quesadillas are my favorite meal to teach kids to use cooking alternatives, like a griddle or a microwave. Of course, it’s excellent practice to learn to use a classic stove top as well! 
BLACK+DECKER Family-Sized Electric Griddle with Warming Tray & Drip Tray, GD2051B

  • Multiple cooking methods- griddle, stove top, or microwave! I often have conversations with my kids like this:  
    • How are various cooking methods alike? 
    • How are they different? 
    • Which one do you like best and why? 
    • What different circumstances might change your cooking method? (Example: If I’m in a hurry, a microwave is a great option!) 
  • If I’m teaching a child to cook who doesn’t want to sit and focus for very long, quesadillas can be a better option than stir fry. 
    • Active children can be more likely to be burned if they are fidgeting or playing around when they are supposed to be cooking. My favorite thing about quesadillas is that you can cook them over a low heat, reducing the risk that your child might burn themselves.

Quesadillas are simple, quick, and easy- which allows the kids to focus on the new skill of using a burner or griddle rather than on the preparation.

Quesadillas: 

Tortilla

Cheese

Nonstick Spray

Any desired add ins (Meat, veggies, salsa, etc.)

I begin by spraying a frying pan with a nonstick spray.

Before I turn the burner on, I place the tortilla in the pan and add cheese on one half. Fold the tortilla over to cover the cheese.

Then, turn the burner on low. Allow your child to flip the quesadilla when the first side is golden brown.

He/she can practice watching the food to avoid burning it, flipping the quesadilla, and using the stove top safely.

9) Cream Cheese Fruit Dip

I use this recipe to teach kids how to use a hand mixer in the kitchen- a very useful tool for lots of recipes.

Click the image below!

Hamilton Beach 62682RZ Hand Mixer with Snap-On Case, White

Here’s what you need:

2- 8oz packages of Cream Cheese

1 cup Powdered Sugar

Any fruit to dip, cut into bite sized pieces

The child begins by beating the cream cheese with the hand mixer for 3-5 minutes. It takes a long time to mix the cream cheese until there are no more lumps (more practice for the child!). You want your cream cheese to be smooth and creamy.

Add in the powdered sugar. Use the hand mixer to mix thoroughly.

Dip a variety of fruits in the fruit dip, including apples, bananas, grapes, berries, etc.

This recipe teaches kids to use the hand mixer without making a mess. I suggest mixing the cream cheese in a large mixing bowl to catch some of the mess.

If the child holds the hand mixer at an angle rather than straight up and down, the mixer will spray bits of cream cheese. Since you must mix the cream cheese for several minutes, the child gets lots of practice.

Do you have any favorite recipes to cook with your kids? Share them in the comments below so that we can all enjoy them!

Sincerely,

Mrs. S

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Custom Freezer Meals- Save Time and Eat Healthy

Custom Freezer Meals- So That You Can Save Time and Eat Healthy

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Photo by Food Photographer | Jennifer Pallian on Unsplash

This post may contain advertisements and/or links for products and services that I value. I offer recommendations to products and/or services that I find helpful in my own life as a mom. I may receive a commission based on viewer purchases or interactions with these ads. You will NOT be charged any extra money. All prices will stay the same for you whether your purchase items/services through links found on this site or not! 

Updated 2/2/2019

parent’s time is in high demand. The to do list is endless, the kids need our love and attention, and we need a break ourselves.

Any possible way to cut down on our demands is a blessing!

That’s why I created these custom freezer meals- for parents who just need a little less time cooking and a little more time with their kids.

two babies and woman sitting on sofa while holding baby and watching on tablet

These meals are super basic and very yummy! My favorite part is that they are customizable so I can eat something new, something I’m excited about, and something that my kids will eat.

All you have to do is choose one of each of the basic components, which are: 1- Meat, 2- Veggie, 3- Side of Rice or Potatoes, 4- Sauce or Seasoning.

Each meal is freezer safe. They are easy to cook when you need them- easy enough for my husband to feel comfortable putting them together. It is so nice to have a break from cooking once in a while or to just have a quick meal!

Improve your freezer meal by adding healthy and delicious energy-boosting super foods!

Here’s how to do it!

1. Write the directions for cooking on a gallon Ziploc bag.

Choose a freezer-specific Ziploc bag. These work best if you plan to keep these meals long term for a rainy day by avoiding freezer burn.

This step is best to complete first because it is easier to write on the bag before it is full of food.

There are more specifics in step #7 about what to write… after I explain the rest of the process.
Ziploc Freezer Bags Gallon, 60.0 Count

For the following steps, feel free to include the kids for the assembly of your freezer meals!

2. Choose your meat.

slices of meat in commercial freezer

Some of our favorites are:

  • Chicken breast
  • Chicken legs
  • Chunks of beef or pork
  • Pork chops
  • Steaks
  • Turkey breast
  • Ham
  • Fish

Place your meat in a gallon, freezer-safe Ziploc bag.

3. Choose a sauce or seasoning to go with your meat.

I love pre-made sauces from the store, like barbecue sauce or honey mustard. They usually only cost a couple bucks (or less!) and I don’t have to put any extra energy into preparing a sauce. This makes these meals cheap and easy to throw together.

several cups with condiments

Examples include:

  • BBQ sauce
  • Ranch seasoning packet
  • Italian seasoning
  • Lemon pepper seasoning
  • Teriyaki sauce
  • Orange chicken sauce
  • Kung pao sauce
  • General Tso’s sauce
  • Mesquite smoke packet
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Seasoned Salt
  • Honey Mustard

Add the sauce or seasoning to your meat.

4. Add liquid.

If you chose to flavor your meal with a dry seasoning, it will need more liquid for the cooking process. Add about 1/2 cup of water or broth. I prefer broth because it adds flavor.

The extra liquid will keep your food (especially the meat) from drying out.

**Don’t be afraid to add more liquid during the cooking process if you would like!

5. Veggie time.

assorted fruits at the market

Decide if you want your veggies to be coated in the sauce along with your meat or separate from the meat and sauce. (For example, I like broccoli on the side of my BBQ chicken, but I don’t like broccoli with BBQ sauce on it. I do like onions mixed in with my BBQ chicken.)

It is extra convenient to buy the frozen packaged veggies. Some fresh veggies don’t freeze well, so buying the frozen kind ensures that your frozen meal will turn out great! Plus, frozen veggies are cheap and there is no prep necessary!

Remember to check this post to find out what veggies will increase your energy!

If you want your veggies in the sauce, add them to the gallon Ziploc bag with your meat.

If you want your veggies separate, place them in a smaller Ziploc. Add butter, salt, or any seasonings desired. Place the small Ziploc into the gallon Ziploc bag. You will cook the veggies separately when you are ready to enjoy your meal, but this keeps everything together for easy storage.

6. Prepare your side of rice or potatoes.

We won’t cook the side just yet- but we will keep each component of the meal together in the freezer for easy storage. (This also helps me when I’m cooking because I have mommy brain and don’t always have the wherewithal to piece together a full meal. It’s better to have it all in one place for those days.)

rice in bowl

Place 2 cups of uncooked rice, potato flakes, or potato pearls in a small Ziploc bag. Place the small Ziploc bag into the gallon Ziploc bag. This is enough to feed 3-5 people as a side, depending on how hungry they are. 😊

Rice and potatoes are so simple to prepare, they are wonderful recipes for children to help with! 

Feel free to add yummy extras to your side if you would like. For example, you could add garlic salt, ranch seasoning, or parmesan cheese to your potato pearls or flakes. You could put a chicken bouillon cube or a bay leaf in with your rice. Then, when you cook it later, you’ll have some extra flavor with no extra effort!

Make sure you write directions on how to cook the rice or potatoes on the front of the gallon Ziploc bag (see step #7). Do not write the directions on the small bag since it could get rubbed off.

7. Write directions on the gallon Ziploc bag.

Like we said before, this is actually the first step. It’s easier to write the directions before you prepare the meal because it is difficult to write on the Ziploc when it is full of food.

We include it last because your directions for cooking depend on how you decided to make your freezer meals. Here is all the information you need.

black steel wok

When you are ready to cook your frozen meal, follow these steps:

Separate the main dish from the sides.

Thawed chicken, beef, turkey, and pork takes between 3-4 hours to cook in a crock pot depending on the quantity of meat you use. If your freezer meal is larger, it will take longer to cook. If your meal is still frozen, no problem! Just separate any small Ziploc bags from the rest and plan 2 extra hours for cook time.

Fish tends to cook faster, around 1-2 hours in a crock pot (thawed) or it can be yummy cooked in a pan with butter as well (around 15-20 minutes).

Most varieties of rice cook at a 1:2 ratio of rice to water. That means if you have 2 cups of rice, you will need 4 cups of water. Check on the box or bag to make sure this applies to you.

(How to Cook Rice Over the Stove- When it is time to cook your meal, you will place cold water and rice in a pot (remember, 1:2 ratio of rice to water). Bring the water to a boil. When the water is at a rolling boil, cover the pot and reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer until the water is completely dissolved and the rice is cooked through. You can also cook your rice in a rice cooker if you prefer that method.)

Potato pearls or flakes are easy to cook. Just add boiling water to the flakes or pearls until you reach a consistency that you enjoy. Some people like a little more or less water. It’s up to you! The potatoes usually need a little more flavor, so I like to add butter, salt, pepper, and garlic to mine. You can add these seasonings before you freeze the meal, or you can add it to the meal as you are cooking.

If you chose to put your veggies in a separate bag, sauté the veggies in a pan with butter or boil the veggies. If you included your veggies in with the meat, they will be added to the crock pot and you won’t have to worry about this step!

That’s a lot to write on a gallon Ziploc bag.

I shorten these directions so that it’s not too much to write. Here is an example of what I wrote on a bag of Mesquite BBQ Chicken:

Mesquite BBQ Chicken with Broccoli and Rice (I always include a title so that I know what I’m eating)

  • Cook chicken in a crock pot (Estimated 4 hours if thawed)
  • Cook the Broccoli separately in boiling water, then sauté in butter (Estimated 15 minutes)
  • Cook the rice separately in 4 cups of water (Estimated 30 minutes)

Here’s one more example:

Ranch Pork Chops with Zucchini and Mashed Potatoes

  • Cook the pork chops and zucchini in a crock pot (Estimated 4 hours if thawed)
  • Boil water. Add boiling water to the potato pearls. (Estimated 15 minutes)

So simple, my husband can follow these directions easily if I’m too tired to cook!

Here’s some examples of freezer meals that my family has enjoyed!

Mesquite BBQ Chicken with Broccoli and Rice

*Ingredients: Mesquite BBQ sauce, chicken legs, onion (included in the sauce and chicken mixture), water, broccoli (separate), rice (separate)

*Directions: Cook chicken in crock pot (estimated 3-4 hours if thawed), boil broccoli separately   (estimated 15 minutes), cook rice separately in 4 cups of water (estimated 30 minutes)

Italian Chicken with Squash and Rice

*Ingredients: Chicken breast, Italian seasoning, chicken broth, squash (included in chicken and seasoning), rice (separate)

*Directions: Cook chicken and squash in crock pot (estimated 3-4 hours if thawed), cook rice separately in 4 cups of water (estimated 30 minutes)

Salmon Stir Fry over Rice

*Ingredients: Salmon, lemon pepper seasoning, water, frozen stir fry veggies, rice (separate)

*Directions: Cook salmon and frozen stir fry veggies in a sauté pan with butter (estimated 15-20 minutes), cook rice separately in 4 cups of water (estimated 30 minutes)

Kung Pao, General Tsao’s, or Orange Chicken Stir Fry over Rice

*Ingredients: Chunks of chicken or turkey, sauce (choose from list above), water, frozen stir fry veggies (included in sauce and meat), can of pineapple chunks, rice (separate)

*Directions: Cook chicken and veggies in crock pot (estimated 3-4 hours if thawed), cook rice separately in 4 cups of water (estimated 30 minutes)

Ranch Pork Chops, Carrots, Bell Peppers, and Rice

*Ingredients: Pork chops, ranch seasoning packet, water or broth, carrots (included in water and meat), bell peppers (included in water and meat), rice (separate)

*Directions: Cook pork and veggies in crock pot (estimated 3-4 hours if thawed), cook rice separately in 4 cups of water (estimated 30 minutes)

Steak and Broccoli with Mashed Potatoes

*Ingredients: Steak, seasoned salt, broccoli (separate), potato pearls (separate)

*Directions: Cook steak on the grill (estimated 30 minutes), in a sauté pan (estimated 30 minutes), or a crock pot (estimated 3-4 hours if thawed), boil broccoli separately (estimated 15 minutes), add boiling water to the potato pearls (estimated 15 minutes)

 

Think about how much time you’ll have with your family now that you won’t be spending hours cooking every night! With all that spare time, try some of these unique indoor activities with your kids!

Enjoy your meals!

Sincerely,

Mrs. S

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Kids in the Kitchen- The Ultimate Guide to Cooking with Your Kids

Kids In the Kitchen- The ULTIMATE Guide for Cooking with Your Kids

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Updated- 2/1/2019

 

I am a firm believer in cooking with your kids.

I find that it’s great parent-child quality time, it builds life skills that they will need as adults, and it is just plain fun! My kids remember the times we have spent in the kitchen together. My nieces and nephews talk about when we made brownies or cookies or homemade ice cream.

Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream & Dessert Book

And cooking is something that you have to do every day anyways! It feels great to check something off of the to do list and still have quality time with your kids.

That being said, it takes some patience and practice to cook with kids around.

Here’s my top suggestions for having kids in the kitchen- without going crazy! Also read up on our favorite things to cook together!

1) Control the Chaos
blue jeans

The worst thing about cooking with kids is the mess. It is simply uncontrollable. If I’m going to allow my kids to help me cook, I’ve got to accept the fact that my kitchen is going to be messy.

That being said- I don’t have to let it turn into a disaster area.

How can we control the chaos?

Make it clear to the kids that cleaning is part of cooking. If they want to enjoy the fun, they’ve got to help with the cleanup as well. Kind of a Henny Penny lesson.

I also make sure that everyone helps clean up along the way in simple ways rather than cleaning up a big mess later. When I wait until the end, my kids are overwhelmed at the size and magnitude of the mess. There are more tantrums, more refusal, more arguing, and less work getting done.

It kind of ruins the fun of cooking.

But, if I make sure the cleanup is manageable for each child by giving them small and simple tasks along the way, they don’t seem to mind. Especially once they are in the habit of helping. Here’s some specific ideas:

  • Do you have a young child who wants to help but is too little for a lot of the actual cooking?? Ask her to get ingredients out and put them away again!
  • Take turns wiping the counter off (this happens many, many times!).
  • Throw away food packaging, egg shells, etc. immediately after use.
  • Put all dirty dishes straight into the sink or dishwasher.

In the end, I only have two jobs- sweep the floor and start the dishwasher. That’s it!

If I had older kids, I would probably get their help on those two things as well. My younger children enjoy using their child-sized brooms and mops to join mom in this part of the clean up (click the image below!).

Melissa & Doug 8600, Letss Play House! Dust! Sweep! Mop! Pretend Play Set, 6-Piece, Kid-Sized Housekeeping Broom, Mop, Duster, Multicolor, Standard

With a manageable mess, everyone (including me!) can enjoy the fun of cooking together.

Need some extra energy before cooking with your kids? Read here for some great energy boosting ideas! 

2) Let it Go

This step describes my mental state during cooking. The technical French phrase is “Mise en place”- which literally translated means “Everything in its place.”

avocado, tomatoes, eggs, mushrooms, spring onions, and leaves

Professional chefs use this term to describe both the physical state of the kitchen being clean and orderly as well as a mental state that the chef is in- a state of calm, control, and confidence. You reach this state by being prepared before you begin cooking.

When we apply the term “Mise en place” to cooking with kids, we have a whole new meaning.

For me, being prepared mentally before I begin cooking with my little ones makes all the difference in my level of patience throughout the cooking process.

If I expect a certain level of participation from my kids (but I don’t get it) or a certain result in what we are cooking (but I don’t get it) or active listening and responding from my kids (but I don’t get it)… I lose my patience and the experience is no fun for anyone.

(For some tips on communicating more effectively with your kids when things go wrong, read this post!)

Before I start, I remind myself that this will not go my way.

Period.

It just doesn’t happen.

  • Someone is going to get egg shells in the batter.
  • Someone is going to spill the milk.
  • Someone is going to have a different opinion on how to follow the recipe.

I can emotionally handle all of these things if I have prepared for these things beforehand.

My husband calls this my “thick skin”. If he reminds me before I do anything difficult to “put on thick skin”, I typically react better because I was prepared for it. If I go in with set expectations, I am easily frustrated when those expectations aren’t met.

So be ready for detours and variations in your plan.

assorted-color signage lot on road during daytime

3) Technique

And now, down to the nitty gritty! Here are my top techniques for cooking with kids. These limit the mess, waste of food, and frustration for everyone.

  • Be safe. Here’s how: 
    • Mom is in charge of using knives until children are older. When kids are old enough to use the knives, mom supervises.
    • Mom is in charge of any heat (oven, stove top, toaster, griddle, grill, etc.) until the kids are older. When they are old enough to try using these things, mom supervises.
    • Give warnings to each other before you walk behind another person. This keeps us from accidentally spilling or hurting each other with sharp objects or hot objects.
    • Mom uses the can opener until kids are older.
    • Kids are taught why each of these kitchen objects are not safe. They learn that although these things could hurt them, we can stay safe by using them properly. Kids are taught to use each object properly at an appropriate age.
  • Be healthy. Here’s how: 
    • Wash hands before and during cooking. Be especially careful to wash hands after handling raw meat.

person washing hands over sink

    • Avoid “cross contamination”. Be aware of what surfaces or utensils have touched raw meat and do not allow those things to touch other foods.
    • Be aware of how long cold foods have been left out of the fridge. Cold foods should not sit out on the counter for an extended period of time.
    • Heat foods thoroughly to avoid food borne illness.
    • Teach children about health hazards in the kitchen and how to be healthy in your cooking.
  • Break eggs into separate bowl rather than breaking eggs directly into the food you are cooking. If a child accidentally gets egg shells in the separate bowl, they are easy to scoop out with a spoon. If the child breaks the egg shells directly into the food you are cooking, they can get lost in the food.
  • Measure out things beforehand. The parent can be in charge of measuring each ingredient. Then the child can pour the ingredients together in a mixing bowl. This ensures that your food matches the recipe and will turn out great!
  • Pour liquids into a small cup or a liquid measuring cup. Avoid using a dry measuring cup for liquids as they are easy for a child to spill.

  • In all cooking skills, slowly increase child’s independence. Some things will be off limits at first, such as cutting food with a knife. Slowly teach your child how to use the knife safely. Start by allowing the child to watch you use the knife as you describe how you are being safe. Then, both the child and the parent hold the knife together to practice using a knife. Slowly help the child less and less until the child can cut food on his own under your supervision. Eventually, the child will be fully independent in using a knife. Make sure to be conscious of the child’s age and emotional standing when you consider teaching this skill.
  • Let kids choose foods to cook. This is a great way to get kids to try new foods. They are much more excited about things when they get to choose them and help make them. Take your child to the store and include him or her in the shopping, meal planning, cooking, and serving of the meal.
  • Give yourself extra time so that you can go slow. This avoids any extra headaches and allows children to learn at their own pace.

4) Teaching Moment

Never complete a task with your child without explaining what you are doing and why. 

Cooking is an important life skill that every person will use. When your child goes to college or moves into their first apartment, they will need to know how to prepare meals for themselves.

Every time you allow your child to participate in the kitchen, they are learning bits of new information that will benefit them later on in life. You can exponentially grow their learning by describing to your child what you are doing. Explain why. Explain how.

man holding incandescent bulb

Among the important skills they will learn are:

  • kitchen safety,
  • avoiding illness,
  • how to eat healthy,
  • how to use various kitchen appliances and utensils,
  • how to read and follow a recipe,
  • how to measure ingredients,
  • how to supplement ingredients when needed,
  • how to make basic staple food items,
  • And much more!

Don’t assume that your child will get all that information just from watching you.

Your words, example, and explanations increase their learning. Allowing the child to try what they have learned for themselves solidifies the knowledge in their minds, making it easier to recall down the road. Be ready to help when needed and correct mistakes in a kind way.

Not sure what to cook? Read more about child-friendly recipes or click the image below for a great child-centered cookbook!

Better Homes and Gardens New Junior Cook Book (Better Homes and Gardens Cooking)

Cooking with your kids in an intentional way to prepare your child for an independent life.

Have fun along the way. Enjoy the wonder and excitement that young children have by teaching them a new skill. They won’t be this small for long!

Sincerely,

Mrs. S

Share this post with any parent who wants their kids to be independent!

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