As someone who loves to cook and eat, I appreciate the way that our cuisine helps to tell our Jewish stories and guides us through the yearly cycle of Jewish holidays. As the darkness increases in the late afternoon, I start to crave potato latkes and begin planning my Hanukkah menus.
I bring my children, George and June, now ages 11 and 9, into the cooking process with me – just as my grandmother did with me when I was a child and gave me a vegetable peeler to take the skin off the potatoes while she grated them all, by hand.
We grate by hand, too – not only for nostalgia’s sake, but because using a grater and a veggie peeler is good fine motor practice and helps George, who is a sensory seeker, get the input that his body craves. Since he’s been three, we’ve been cooking together and working on his developmental skills along the way. In 2010, I published my children’s cookbook The Kitchen Classroom to share our recipes, with photos of every step that are so helpful for George and many children who are visual learners. The Kitchen Classroom also features a guide for parents/teachers highlighting developmental skills throughout each recipe.
You can visit my website during Hanukkah – I’ve posted our (gluten-free) Sweet Potato Latke recipe as a free download – and give it a try with your kids!
If your child is new to cooking, start out modestly. For example, you might work using hand over hand on one potato. Here are some skills that you can focus on while you make latkes together:
Language: Make a list of the ingredients that you will need, including the oil. You may want to read a story about Hanukkah and connect the story of the oil that lasted for eight days to the oil you’ll be using for cooking latkes.
Math: Cooking is a great time to practice counting. How many people will be eating latkes? Count two potatoes for every person (well, in my house, it’s three) who will be eating latkes. For children who are adding and multiplying, you have a few math problems right in front of you!
Sensory Integration: Cooking latkes fills your home with an aroma that can linger for days. If your child has intense repulsion to smells, you may want to keep a window cracked or run a fan. You can also turn making latkes into a great opportunity to investigate different smells. Pull out a range of herbs and spices that could make latkes sweet or savory – rosemary, garlic, cinnamon, etc. – and invite your child to share what he/she likes best.
Social: Hanukkah is about being together, about family, about passing on traditions. It is not always easy for many of our kids to participate in large, noisy family or community gatherings. But by being in a quiet, calm kitchen with you – he or she gets to experience the joy of sharing a Hanukkah experience that is part of the generations.
I’d love to see pictures of you and your kids making latkes! Post them at https://www.facebook.com/KitchenClassroom. Wishing you a very happy Hanukkah!
Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer is the author of The Kitchen Classroom and loves teaching inclusive cooking classes. She directs Whole Community Inclusion at Jewish Learning Venture and coordinates Celebrations! at Mishkan Shalom.