Family Recipes: The Heart and Soul of Holiday Traditions
Tradition is defined as beliefs or customs taught by one generation to the next. We all have them, and they have influenced who we are and how we live our lives. Traditions keep us connected to generations past. When we celebrate the holidays with traditions, we are celebrating who we are and where we came from.
At the heart of holiday traditions are the family recipes we make over and over again. These are recipes that serve as heirlooms that we pass on to our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren… heirlooms that allow future generations to honor and immortalize our family history. Food traditions link newer family members to older generations and offer a delicious way to strengthen family ties. And preparing those special holiday meals together as a family—young and old alike—is a terrific way to bond the generations and create a sense of togetherness.
Holiday Meal Preparation: A Family Affair
If you have cherished food traditions from your own childhood, you probably wish to pass on those traditions to your own children. But in this fast-paced world of take-out dinners and premade meals right out of the freezer or microwave, it can be difficult for younger generations to keep homemade family recipes alive. So what can you do to create those happy holiday kitchen memories for your children? Here are a few simple and fun ideas that will help spark your children’s culinary creativity and nurture your own family traditions:
- Start Them Young. If you have very young children (or children who aren’t seemingly interested in helping with meal preparation), let them be in charge of setting and decorating the holiday table. Younger children can make placemats and name cards. Older children can get creative with centerpieces or homemade napkin rings. There are always plenty of ways to contribute to a successful holiday meal, regardless of one’s age or skill level.
- Find Out Their Favorites. Family recipes can’t be passed down to the next generation if they don’t have the skills to make them. Making meals together is not only fun, it creates a sense of unity and belonging and provides the perfect opportunity for kids to learn some basic cooking skills. Children love to contribute in a meaningful way to a family meal, so start a conversation to find out what their favorite holiday dishes are. Let them choose one that they feel completes the holiday meal and put them in charge of preparing it.
- Create new traditions. Sure, it’s comforting to have the same dishes year after year, but at some point every “traditional” recipe that graces your holiday table was a new addition. Invite your children to choose a new recipe to add to your traditional holiday feast. Look through recipes together and find a new dish that will compliment your current menu and reflects your family’s tastes and preferences. If it stands the test of time, you will have one more “heirloom” to pass down that will connect your family of today with your family of tomorrow.
- Add a new twist to an old favorite. My mom made the best stuffing ever. But even so, whenever it was my turn to host Thanksgiving, I couldn’t resist all the delicious and innovative stuffing recipes I would see in food magazines around the holidays. I wanted to honor my mom by making her stuffing, but I also wanted to let my creative juices flow and try something new and different. So what did I do? I improvised. My mom’s stuffing became the foundation, and with a few little tweaks here and there, I ended up with a new version of an old favorite. Inviting children to get creative and add their own unique flavor and style to a family favorite provides a great opportunity to get them involved in both the planning and preparation of your holiday meal.
- Create a holiday recipe book. Create a special “family holiday cookbook” to keep all your favorite recipes in one place. Have your kids rewrite all your holiday recipes on festive paper and decorate them with stickers, stencils, or drawings. Encourage them to include a hand-drawn picture or photo of the finished product and stories or journal-type entries to remember special moments from each year’s celebration.
- Food traditions are the heart and soul of holiday celebrations because they are at the root of those cherished childhood memories that bring us comfort and joy during the holidays. Bring your family together in the kitchen this holiday season to start making memories for your children that will stand the test of time—just like the family recipes that bind you—and build a bridge that will unite your family for generations to come.
Barbara J. Brandt, M.Ed., has over 30 years of experience teaching, cooking, and creating curriculum for top national educational publishers including Scott Foresman, McGraw-Hill, Houghton-Mifflin, and Pearson. After receiving her Masters in Educational Psychology, Brandt specialized in writing and editing both student and teacher’s editions of award-winning textbook series. She combined her rich expertise in education, her passion for teaching, and her love of cooking to create the cookbook she couldn’t find in stores – one that actually teaches kids to cook! The result is a four-time national award winning kids’ cooking program that is bringing the pleasures, pride, and traditions of home-cooked food back to the family table.