Fun gifts to give and receive for foodie kids

PHOTO BY ASHLEY MEYER
Elizabeth Meyer packs lemon- ginger shortbreads into a festive cookie tin.

For foodie kids and their families, the holiday season can be a non-stop source of culinary fun. And thanks to the wild popularity of cooking competition shows and endless inspiration on social media, kids are getting into the kitchen at increasingly early ages.

Many kids love to make homemade gifts, especially the yummy kind, and the recipes below are a snap to prepare with kids of all ages. Package them in cellophane gift bags with a ribbon and name tag for a pretty presentation. It's an economical way to make a large quantity of high-quality gifts, ideal for passing out to friends and teachers. They can also be prepared in advance and stored in the freezer, helping to budget your time during this busy season.

Another homemade gift option is to work with your child to put together their own cookbook filled with favorite recipes. This can be as simple as a collection of recipes that they've enjoyed throughout the year, handwritten or typed out and stapled or bound with festive ribbon. Or take it a step further and have kids solicit additional recipes from family and friends in advance to include in the book, as well as scrapbook photos and mementos. These can be copied and printed at home or taken to a professional printer and coil-bound, a good option if you want several to give to extended family and friends.

If you're looking for gifts to give aspiring young chefs, kid-safe nylon kitchen knives are a great way for kids to safely hone their skills while keeping their digits intact, as are hand-held crinkle cutters, perfect for cutting carrots and other veggies. Consider a gift set of interesting salt-free spice mixes – perfect for jazzing up beginner dishes like buttered pasta or grilled cheese. These can be ordered from a specialty company such as Penzey's Spices (www.penzeys.com) or purchased locally. Throw in a fun apron and a snazzy spatula for a delicious and unique gift set. For older children who like to make their own snacks and sandwiches, a colorful electric panini press is thoughtful option.

Favorite cookbooks for kids include Alice Water's Fanny at Chez Panisse, in which the world-renowned restauranteur chronicles her then-young daughter's adventures growing up in their famous Berkeley restaurant, complete with delicious and straightforward recipes. The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs by America's Test Kitchen is bright and colorful, with ample photographs and illustrations that make it easy for elementary-aged kids to learn essential life skills like how to prepare eggs, cook brown rice and properly handle sharp kitchen tools. They break it down step by step and effectively demonstrate how to customize recipes to create balanced meals that are beautiful as well as delicious.

Shortbread cookies

These melt-in your mouth cookies are a snap to prepare and have a long shelf life. The dough can be prepared ahead and stored in the refrigerator for up to a week or frozen for several months.

1 cup best-quality salted butter, at room temperature

1 cup powdered sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour (gluten-free flour works well, too)

Optional flavor additions include 1 tablespoon espresso powder, 1 teaspoon cinnamon or pie spice, ¼ teaspoon cardamom, cloves or nutmeg, ½ teaspoon peppermint extract or the zest of one lemon, lime or orange

Up to 1 cup of add-ins of your choice (mini chocolate chips, chopped nuts, dried fruit, etc.)

Cream together the butter and powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and any other liquid extracts that you may be using, as well as citrus zest, if using. Mix to incorporate, then add the flour. Add the flour as well as any dry flavorings that you may be using and mix to combine. It may appear crumbly at first – keep mixing until it all comes together to form a stiff dough.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and roll into a log about 1 ½-inches in diameter. Wrap tightly in waxed paper and refrigerate until firm, about two hours (or freeze to bake later).

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Slice the dough crosswise slightly thicker than 1/8-inch. Bake in a preheated oven on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet for 12-14 minutes until lightly golden brown. Cool completely. Drizzle with melted chocolate if desired. Package once completely set and store in an airtight container.

Granola

1/3 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup maple syrup or honey

1/3 cup canola oil

¾ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon or pie spice

3 cups old-fashioned oatmeal

2 cups chopped nuts of choice

1 cup shredded coconut

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees and spray two baking sheets with cooking spray. Combine the brown sugar, honey or syrup, oil, salt and cinnamon in a large bowl and mix to combine. Add the remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly. Divide the granola between the two baking sheets and transfer to the oven. Bake for a total of one hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Cool completely before packaging.

Ashley Meyer is a Springfield mom of two whose daughters like to give and receive food-related gifts.

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