Warm and Cozy Cinnamon Baked Apples

baked cinnamon apples

The only thing better than biting into a crisp fresh apple is digging into warm, spiced baked apples which are not only delicious but relatively healthy. Baked apples make a great stand alone treat as well as a fantastic topping for ice cream, french toast, pancakes, waffles, toast or even chicken! They are also incredibly yummy stirred into vanilla yogurt, it makes for the perfect filling breakfast. I like to make a big batch of these apples and then keep them in the fridge so I have them on hand all week for my breakfast and snacks.

This recipe is great because nothing really needs to be exact. Feel free to add a little more cinnamon and spice or if you like your apples more “syrupy“, add a little more liquid or even a dash of maple syrup for flavor and stickiness. There really is no way to mess this recipe up so get comfortable playing around with the ingredients and flavor profile.

One quick trick to speed up the prep time is to use an Apple Corer and Slicer which makes the job so much easier. I feel that the apple slices are a little on the thick side so I like to halve them however, you can bake them “as is” just be sure to increase the cooking time. Serve the apples warm right out of the oven, at room temperature or even cold. They will keep for a few day if placed in a tightly sealed container in the fridge. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 2 tbs unsalted butter, divided
  • 2-3 tbs dark brown sugar
  • 3 tsp vanilla sugar or granulated sugar
  • 3 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (optional)
  • 5 large baking apples peeled, cored and sliced to medium thickness (Honeycrisp, Granny Smith, etc)
  • 3-4 tbs water or apple cider

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease a large baking dish with 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter. Set aside.

Mix together the brown sugar, vanilla (or granulated) sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Toss the apples slices in the mixture and coat evenly.

Place the apples into the baking dish and add the water or cider to the baking dish. Dot the apples with the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until apples are tender but not mushy.

S’mores Cookie Bars

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There is nothing quite like S’mores, they are a warm, gooey, scrumptious bite of heaven. They are without a doubt one of my most favorite desserts and they are always a crowd pleaser as well. I love this particular recipe because it makes it easy to serve them up to a bunch of people without having to make them one by one. In fact, they are so easy to make that even your kids will be able to whip these up, it’s the perfect recipe for those little budding chefs to try their hand at!

These amazing S’mores Cookie Bars comes from one of my favorite baking sites, Sally’s Baking Addiction , you can click right here to link to the original recipe. These are absolutely perfect as written, the only minor change that I made was to use bittersweet chocolate chips instead of semi-sweet because I really love dark chocolate.

Take note, when the bars are done baking, it is very important that you allow them to cool completely otherwise they will be a warm, gooey mess and very difficult to cut. However, if you don’t care about appearances, attack that pan and go crazy! I always love a nice warm S’mores so even if they have cooled and been cut, you can give them a quick zap in the microwave to warm back up. Any leftover bars will keep for about a week in a tightly covered container. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (115g) salted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup (150g) packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1 cup (125g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (100g) graham cracker crumbs (about 9-10 graham crackers)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 and 1/4 cup (225g) semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 heaping cup marshmallow creme

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Line an 8×8 or 9×9 square baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving enough overhang on the sides to easily remove the bars when they have cooled. Set aside.

In a large bowl using handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and brown sugar together on medium-high speed. Beat for about 2 minutes until smooth and combined, then add the vanilla extract and egg, beating until combined. Scrape the sides of the bowl down as needed. Set aside.

Toss the flour, graham cracker crumbs, and baking powder together until combined. With the mixer running on low, slowly add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Mix until combined.

Press 2/3 of the graham cookie dough into prepared pan. Spread the marshmallow creme on top. Sprinkle the marshmallow creme with chocolate chips. Mold the remaining cookie dough into flat pieces and layer on top of the chocolate chips. (There will not be enough dough to make one single layer so some chocolate chips will be exposed.)

Bake the bars for 25 minutes, or until the top is lightly golden brown. Allow to cool completely with the pan set on a wire rack before cutting into squares. Bars stay fresh covered tightly at room temperature for up to 1 week.

Banana Walnut Muffins

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Fresh, warm muffins are always a big hit (especially with my children) and because they are so easy to make, there is no excuse to keep using those boxed versions which are filled with additives and chemicals. With just a few basic ingredients you can have a warm batch of muffins ready to be served with your Sunday morning breakfast. Make a double batch and once they are completely cooled, freeze them so that you will always have homemade muffins on hand. A quick defrosting in the microwave and it’s like they were baked fresh that day! Also, because this is such an easy recipe to follow, it’s the perfect recipe for your little budding chefs to try their hand at.

This recipe comes from a great cookbook that was put out by Williams-Sonoma entitled, “Muffins“. Sadly, it is no longer in print but you can borrow it from your local library or buy it on Amazon from 3rd party sellers. I was able to find a copy in great condition for only a few dollars. If you’re fortunate enough to come across a copy, other noteworthy recipes from this cookbook are the Chocolate Chip Muffins, Cranberry Orange Muffins and Vanilla Pear Muffins. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 oz/235 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup (6 oz/185 grams) granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup (3 ox/90 grams) walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup (4 fl oz/125 ml) canola oil
  • 1 large egg
  • 2-3 medium sized very ripe bananas, slightly mashed to yield 1 1/4 cups (10 oz.315 grams)
  • 3 tbs buttermilk

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Grease a standard muffin pan with cooking spray or use paper liners.

In a bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, chopped walnuts, baking soda and salt.

In another bowl, whisk together the oil, egg, mashed bananas and buttermilk until blended. Add the dry ingredients and beat well until evenly combined and creamy.

Spoon the batter into each muffin cup filling it level with the rim of the cup.

Bake until golden, dry and springy to the touch, about 20-25 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center of the muffin should come out clean. Transfer the muffin pan to a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes. Remove the muffins from the pan and place them on  the wire rack to continue to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 12 muffins.

 

 

Homemade Chunky Applesauce

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I am a HUGE fan of apples and I love to eat them every which way from Sunday. Raw, sliced on a ham sandwich, cooked alongside pork or chicken, on top of a fall salad, in cakes and cookies and as good old-fashioned applesauce. Apples are such a delicious and versatile fruit, the possibilities for using them up are simply endless. This is my favorite recipe for homemade applesauce because it’s not only scrumptious but it’s SO easy to prepare, it practically makes itself! It’s so easy that even your kids can help you make it!

I love to use a variety of different apples so that I get a more complex and interesting flavor. Some of my favorites are Honeycrisp, Granny Smith, Pink Lady , McIntosh, and Lemonade apples. Of course you can use just one variety but don’t be afraid to try out different combinations as well. Traditionally applesauce has a smooth consistency however, I really love to bite into and taste the fresh apples so I like to keep my applesauce chunky. A simple potato masher is perfect for making chunky applesauce as it allows you to control the consistency to your liking. If you prefer a smooth applesauce, simply run the cooked apples through a food mill or blend using an immersion blender or countertop blender.

Last note, feel free to adjust how much sugar you use in this recipe. You can increase, decrease or eliminate it entirely depending on the level of sweetness you prefer. You can also adjust the spices as well. I tend to go light on the ginger because it can be an overpowering, bold flavor but if you prefer to use more, go for it! You can even substitute the ginger for apple pie spice, baking spice or any other warm fall spices that you may have handy. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 12 medium-sized apples, any baking variety such as Honeycrisp, Granny Smith, McIntosh, etc.
  • 3 tbs apple cider or apple juice
  • 3 tbs unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger

Instructions

Peel, core and dice the apples into large chunks.

Place the apples, cider, butter, brown sugar and spices into a large pot. Cover and simmer on low heat for 30-40 minutes or until apples are tender.

For a smooth applesauce – Blend using either a food mill, blender or immersion blender to desired consistency.

For a chunky texture – Use a handheld potato masher to mash the apples to desired consistency.

Chef Emerson’s Homemade Ciabatta Bread

Em Ciabatta

(Pictured above is the loaf that was made by my daughter at cooking school)

What is more delicious than the smell of fresh homemade bread? How about fresh homemade bread that is baking right in your own oven? This simple recipe comes directly from the children’s cooking class at Sur La Table that my daughter has participated in for the third year in a row. This recipe requires a little advanced preparation as you need to prepare the “sponge“, a fermented bread starter, the day before but once that is ready to go it’s really a very easy recipe for both kids and adults to make. The end result is a delicious, crusty, warm loaf of bread perfect for sandwiches or as a side to your meal.

Ciabatta, pronounced [tʃaˈbatta], is one of my most favorite breads. I love the crusty cracked outside and the soft, delicate inside. The word ciabatta is Italian in origin and translated it means, “slipper” which is descriptive of this bread’s distinctive flat, tapered shape. Ciabatta bread originated in the region of Italy known as Liguria and quickly spread across the country in popularity. Depending on the region of Italy you are in, ciabatta bread can vary in its texture from soft and porous to a more crunchy, firm crust with a dense crumb. Here in America it is easily found in most supermarkets and bakeries and has what is commonly known as an “open crumb” structure. This is due to the use of a sponge, otherwise known as a “starter“, that is added into the dough preparation. Regardless, it is a wonderful and delicious bread that is the perfect accompaniment to any meal. Enjoy!

Ingredients

For the sponge

  • 1/8 tsp active dry yeast
  • 2 tbs warm water (110°F to 115°F)
  • 1/3 cup water, room temperature
  • 1 cup ( 4 1/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

For the bread

  • 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 2 tbs warm whole milk (110°F to 115°F)
  • 2/3 cup water, room temperature
  • 1 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups bread flour OR unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 1/2 tsp sea salt

Instructions

To make the sponge – In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the yeast and warm water and let stand for 5 minutes until the yeast dissolves. Mix in the room temperature water and flour until well incorporated. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the sponge stand at room temperature at least 12 hours and up to one day.

To make the bread – In a small bowl stir together the yeast and milk and let stand for 5 minutes or until it looks creamy and a little bubbly.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, blend together the yeast mixture, sponge, water, oil and flour at low-speed until the flour is just moistened.

Beat the dough at medium speed for 3 minutes. Add the salt and beat for another 4 minutes on medium. Turn the dough out into a large bowl coated with olive oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rise at room temperature until it’s doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours. The dough will be bubbly and quite sticky.

Line a rimless baking sheet with a 12X12″ piece of parchment paper and generously dust with flour. Turn the dough out onto a well floured work surface and cut in half using a bench scraper or knife. Transfer the halves to the prepared baking sheet and form into irregular ovals about 9″ long. Dimple the loaves with floured fingers and dust the tops with flour. Cover the loaves with a damp kitchen towel. Let them rise at room temperature until almost doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.

About 30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 425°F and place a pizza stone in the center of the oven.

Transfer the loaves on the parchment paper sheet to the pizza stone. Bake until pale golden and the loaf sounds hollow when the bottom is tapped with a finger, about 20 minutes. Using a large spatula, transfer the loaves to a wire rack to cool.

Chef Emerson’s Almond Vanilla Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake

Em cake 5

If there is one thing my daughter loves to do it is bake and now that she’s getting older, she is almost 10 now, she really loves to work independently on her kitchen creations. I try to give her as much space as she needs during her time in the kitchen assisting only as needed with measuring and baking tips. Don’t be afraid to hand over the reins to your little baker, the only way for them to learn and grow in the kitchen is for them to do the work on their own.

This recipe was adapted from one of my daughter’s favorite cookbooks, The Nerdy Nummies Cookbook: Sweet Treats for the Geek in All of Us by Rosanna Pansino who also happens to have a really great YouTube® baking channel. It’s a simple to follow recipe so it is great for kids to try on their own. The original recipe is for a lightly lemon flavored pound cake however, my daughter Emerson isn’t fond of lemon so she decided to change-up the flavor profile. She eliminated the lemon zest and instead used a little less vanilla extract while adding in some almond extract. Then she decided to incorporate some mini chocolate chips as well because in her world, everything is better with chocolate! If you wish to make the original recipe simply use 2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract and 2 tablespoons of finely grated lemon zest instead of the chocolate chips and extracts combination.

One small tip to ensure that you chocolate chips are evenly dispersed throughout the cake, lightly dust them in flour before adding them to the batter. Chocolate chips have a tendency to sink to the bottom of batter however, a light dusting of flour will help to suspend them nicely throughout the finished cake. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp Kosher salt
  • 2 1/2 sticks (10 ounces) salted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract or paste
  • 1/2 tsp pure almond extract
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
  • confectioner’s sugar, for dusting

Instructions

Preheat oven to 325ºF. Grease a bundt ban with cooking spray and lightly dust with flour.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Place the mini chocolate chips in a small bowl and very lightly dust them with flour. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter until softened. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape the bowl as needed. Beat in the vanilla and almond extracts.

On low-speed, alternate adding the flour mixture and the milk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Add the mini chocolate chips and mix until just incorporated.

mixer pic

Pour the batter evenly into prepared bundt pan. Tap the bottom of the pan on the work surface to get rid of any air bubbles. Bake for 50-55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

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Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. If needed, loosen the sides of the cake from the pan with a small butter knife. Carefully turn the cake out of the pan into a wire rack and allow to cool completely. Lightly dust with confectioner’s sugar before serving.

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**Tip – To quickly bring eggs to room temperature, gently place them into a bowl of hot tap water and allow them to sit for a few minutes.**

Homemade Fudge Pops

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Since I was a little girl one of my most favorite summer treats have been fudge pops. They are frosty and creamy and just so delicious. As yummy as they are though, anything that is store-bought is always made with extra fillers and icky ingredients so when I saw this recipe for homemade pops and realized just how easy they were to make we had to give them a whirl! I promise you, once you have these pops you might never go back to the prepackaged ones again!

This fudge pop recipe comes from “Everyday Food with Sarah Carey” and it’s just so quick and simple to make that you won’t believe it. (**see video below**) In fact, my daughter actually made this batch herself, I just assisted with the pouring because the mixture is very hot.

I have made these quite a few times now and while the original recipe calls for whole milk and heavy cream, I actually prefer them just a little lighter so I like to use 1% milk and half-n-half. I think that the “mouth taste” with the lighter ingredients is just a little better but feel free to make these however you wish. Either way they will be refreshing and delicious. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 cups milk, divided
  • 1 1/3 heavy cream or half-n-half
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp Kosher salt
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Instructions

In a 2 qt saucepan whisk together the cornstarch and 2 tbs of the milk until smooth. Then whisk in the remaining milk, cream, sugar, cocoa and salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat while stirring constantly, cook for 1 minute. The mixture will begin to thicken up considerably at this stage.

fudgemixture

Stir in the vanilla and transfer the mixture to a large pouring vessel such as a measuring cup. Fill the ice pop molds and freeze until solid, at least 6 hours. Before serving, run the molds under hot tap water to release the pops.

fudge pops mixture

 

Video courtesy of “Everyday Cooking”

Chocolate Covered Apple Slices

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Sometimes it can be a challenge to get your kids to eat healthy, I struggle daily with this because I have two pretty picky eaters. Thankfully, my son at least loves fruit but my daughter will put up a fight over anything that isn’t junk food or a hamburger. So I thought that if we dressed up our fruit a little it would motivate her to at least eat something a little better than chips or pretzels. I used dark chocolate which is a bit “healthier” and with such a thin layer of the yummy stuff, this snack really is just fruit on a stick!

The little beauties pictured above were handmade by both of my kids. They were in charge of dipping and decorating and I think they did an amazing job! Plus, they were so excited to eat them since they were the sous chefs in charge. That is the great benefit of letting your kids help you in the kitchen, when they have some ownership over the food that is being prepared they are more inclined to want to try new things. No surprise, my daughter liked them!

For this batch of apples they decided to use sprinkles, diced pecans, mini chocolate chips and toffee bits for their toppings. You can really use almost anything you have in the pantry as a topping such as crushed cookies or graham crackers, mini marshmallows, crushed candy, sanding sugar, etc. This is a great opportunity for your kids to get creative in the kitchen. If you wanted to be a little “naughty” and amp these up a level, dip the apple slices into melted caramel first, let cool and then coat with chocolate. SO good!

Before you dip the apples into the chocolate I recommend that you give the slices a quick dip in lemon juice. The lemon juice will help to prevent the cut apple slices from getting brown and mushy. When you remove them from the lemon juice gently dry with a clean paper towel before you begin dipping them into the chocolate. Do not skip this step as you do not want to introduce any liquid into the melted chocolate because it can cause it to seize rendering it completely unusable. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 2-3 unpeeled apples, cored and sliced
  • wooden skewers
  • lemon juice, for preservation
  • 1 bag of chocolate melting wafers or other chocolate
  • assorted toppings
  • wax paper, for workspace

Instructions

Thoroughly wash apples then core and slice them. Place them into a bowl of lemon juice and gently swirl them around for a minute or two. Remove and pat dry with a clean paper towel. Place a wooden skewer in each slice. Sort toppings into small bowls or cups.

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Melt the chocolate over a double boiler or in the microwave. Dip the slices, one at a time, into the chocolate and then gently tap them on the side of bowl or pot to remove excess chocolate. Hold the apple slice over the wax paper and sprinkle on the topping.

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Gently place the apple slices on a cookie sheet lined with a silicone mat. Place the finished slices into the refrigerator and allow them to cool and harden for at least 20-30 minutes.  Store them in the refrigerator until serving.

apple slices

Why You Should Get Your Kids in the Kitchen

“By starting small, you can build the foundation that eventually leads to confidence in the kitchen”.
– Author Unknown

Children should learn how to cook. Period. At some point our cute little humans will grow up to be adults who will need to have a basic set of life skills in order to function and take care of themselves. Cooking is without a doubt one of those basic life skills. I would like to think that when my kids are grown and out of the house they will be able to do better for themselves than a bowl of cereal or an icky frozen meal. I want them to have enough knowledge and experience in the kitchen to be able to pull together a few simple dishes on their own without having to rely on prepackaged foods from the supermarket. I also want them to one day be able to prepare great meals for their own families and for that to happen, it begins with me.

I’ve been cooking and baking with my kids since they were toddlers, which I know sounds young, but they used to love being up on the counter helping to stir and mix ingredients. Helping me cook really made them feel useful and good about themselves. It is simple tasks like these that become the foundation from which you build up their skills and confidence in the kitchen as they get older. Every small task they accomplish is another step towards gaining independence in the kitchen. My daughter is almost 9 now and when she sees a dish in a restaurant or watches a cooking show her response is usually, “I think I can make that Mommy! Can we try to make that?” and it’s because she’s gained enough confidence in herself and in her skills in the kitchen to want to try. That confidence and belief in herself will carry her even further than just being able to cook, it’ll help her in life.

Got picky eaters? Involving kids in the meal planning and cooking process is a great way to get them to try new things and broaden their palettes. As a mom of two picky eaters myself I completely understand the challenge other parents face in finding foods that kids will actually eat. My daughter, who inspects every fleck of food on her dish, can be impossible to deal with at meal time. Recently, she took a cooking class where she made something called “Veggie Yakisoba” which in a million years I would never think she’d eat. Aside from the veggies it was made with soba noodles, an ingredient she’s never had before, so I was sure she’d resist that dish at every turn. To my surprise, she dove right in and ended up loving it! I know for certain, had I made that same dish and served it to her she’d turn up her nose but because she was involved in the process of cooking it she was intrigued to try it. It’s nice being able to add another food to the short list of things she will eat. So instead of fighting with your kids about eating and stressing yourself out, involve them in the process so that you’re working together to make mealtime a more pleasurable experience.

Cooking and baking with your kids is also the perfect opportunity to teach them a little math. Allowing them to measure ingredients is a great way to reinforce concepts such as adding, subtracting, and even fractions. Mathematical concepts when used in “real life” tend to stick with kids much better than when just seen on a page. You can also show them how recipes can be converted from the U.S. standard of measurement to the metric system and vice versa. Teaching them how to halve or double a recipe is another great way for them to stretch their math skills. Cooking, while fun, is also an excellent learning experience for children. Don’t miss these teachable moments in the kitchen!

Healthy matters! As you cook together, talk to your children about healthy eating habits and healthy foods. Show them how you can make their favorite treats even better by using fresh, wholesome ingredients instead of all of the junk that is in prepackaged foods.  Who needs to eat gross things like guar gum, carrageenan, and 40 different types of dyes? You will find that your kids palettes can change quickly and before you know it, they will prefer the healthier made foods more than the store-bought ones they were once used to. Show them how you can easily make your own cookie dough, granola bars, snack mixes, and more which I promise will taste better than anything from a store. Got a green thumb? Try growing a small garden together so they will have a bounty of fresh ingredients at their disposal to turn into delicious meals. There is nothing better than a summer warmed cucumber from your own garden! Start them on the right foot early so that later they don’t have to struggle with food issues.

Lastly, cooking brings families together. Being in kitchen with your kids is a great way to slow down, connect and make memories. The cell phones are away, the TV is off and you’re all focused on a common goal which is to make a great meal to share. This time together is the perfect opportunity to talk to your kids about their day, about their dreams, about anything under the sun. Relax, smile, laugh, and make beautiful memories together. The times you spend with your kids in the kitchen will be the times they remember when they look back on their childhood. Learning to prepare treasured family recipes and cooking alongside elders will undoubtedly become some of your children’s most treasured memories.

There really are no drawbacks to having your kids in the kitchen. Sure it might take a little longer to pull a dish together but in the end it will get done and your kids will have learned another skill, gotten another boost of confidence, and taken another step towards becoming an independent, functioning adult. Bonus for you? Maybe one day when you’re older and your kids are grown you’ll be able to sit at THEIR kitchen table and have them cook you a delicious, homemade meal. Then you can smile and give yourself a little pat on the back for a job well done because you paved the way for them to be confident in the kitchen.

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