Thanksgiving Dinner Skill-School Day #5: Spuds with Buds + Maple-Bacon-Braised Brussels Sprouts with Roasted Pecans

Yay! We’re so glad you dropped in to take a peek in our kitchen! Before we get cookin’ you may want to check out our first four posts in this series:

Chop it! Dice it! Mince it!

Anyone who hangs out with me for any length of time could tell you that I spend an incredible amount of time in the kitchen—cooking, eating, and constantly putting the kettle onbut this week I have spent so much extra time in the kitchen cooking the Thanksgiving feast with the kids that I have actually acquired two new cooking calluses from all the veggie prep! I’m not gonna lie, it has me feeling kind of like an Iron Chef rock star. Today we are vegging out in the kitchen, so cheers to crunchy hard work and a whole feast of rewards at the end of it!

On the kitchen prep menu today we’re going GOLD and GREEN like the Green Bay Packers . . . tackling potatoes and brussels sprouts!

Spuds with Buds

*about 1.5 hours start to finish with kids*

~The ever-popular Mr. Potato Head~

Potatoes are one of the most “kid-friendly” dishes on the Thanksgiving table for more reasons then just that kids love them! The vegetable that gave America the gift (or curse) of French-Fries and Potato Chips is also a perfect first medium for little chefs to practice plenty of culinary skills.

From spud scrubbin’, to eye-popping, to peeling, to mashing, to a game of hot potato . . . the humble tater dishes up a lot of opportunity in one perfect little oblong package, and your kids will dig it! So, get your teenage couch-potatoes up and into the kitchen! And don’t be shy to tackle the spuds with your lil’ buds, too! You can even take on taters with tots!


*Adapted from*


I break two big rules when I make mashed potatoes:

First, I go for gold (Yukon that is)! And second, I make them ahead of time because I do not want to be peeling, mashing, and making a mess on Thanksgiving day, thank you very much. Russets may be the potato king in most kitchens and restaurants, but I grew up with beautiful red and golden potatoes from the garden and I just think they are better in every way! They are more nutritious, have more color, have more flavor, and Yukon golds make creamier, fluffier, buttery-yellow mashed potatoes.

The recipe we are using is for Yukon gold mashed potatoes so we only adapted a few things. Firstly, we tripled it because I do not intend to cook again until at least Sunday . . . and hey . . . potato pancakes anyone? Secondly, I made a cashew-based cream and used almond milk to offset some dairy and fat content. You can make this mashed potato recipe vegan by simply replacing the butter with a dairy-free option such as Earth Balance.

  • 5 lbs of Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup cream (or make non-dairy cashew-based cream ahead of time according to the directions at the bottom of this bulleted list!)
  • 8 tb butter
  • 1/2 cup almond milk (or more)
  • salt and pepper to taste

For non-dairy cashew-based cream:

  • soak 8 oz of cashews fully submerged in water for 6 hours or overnight
  • strain and rinse
  • add to food processor with 2 tb lemon juice, 2 tb maple syrup, and 1 cup plain almond milk
  • blend until smooth and creamy
  • store extra in the freezer for a later cream-substitution

Let’s get Cookin’!

*click here to check out our tips for kicking it with kids in the kitchen*

1.) Wash potatoes (ages 2 and up)

2.) Dry potatoes (ages 2 and up)

3.) Peel potatoes (ages 5 and up with help/best judgment)

Our Kindergartener helped me peel the potatoes with his “veggie dude” peeler. I thought he would give up a few minutes in, because peeling is hard for little kids! But he actually stuck with it and partially peeled the entire bowl for about a half hour stretch! If you want to give this a go, show your child how to hold the potato with one hand and with the other hand push the peeler down into the skin and then pull down and away from the other hand in slow, smooth motions.

As you can see . . . the potatoes were not peeled perfectly. But no matter! Our little bud was so proud of his pile of spuds! And it only took me a few minutes with a peeler and a hot cup of tea to finish the job.

4.) Chop potatoes (ages 8 and up with best judgment): cut each potato in half lengthwise, then cut each in half lengthwise again, and then cut all the long slices in half crosswise. In other words, quarter the potato lengthwise and then halve.

5.) Cook potatoes (ages 6 and up with help): cover the potatoes by at least an inch or more in COLD water. I’m not sure why this is so important . . . but it is according to people who understand science a lot better than I do. Bring the pot to a boil, then cover tightly and reduce to a simmer for 25-30 minutes or when the potatoes pierce easily with a butter knife.

6.) Heat butter, cream, and milk (ages 5 and up with help): while your potatoes are cooking, heat the butter, cream, and milk together in a saucepan on the stove or in a bowl in the microwave. Don’t cook them . . . just heat them and keep them very warm to hot until you are ready to pour over the potatoes. This will prevent over-cooling of the potatoes that results in those hard potato lumps that nobody except grandma likes. You can also season now with a pinch of salt and pepper (I used about 1/2 tsp salt with salted butter and 1/4 tsp pepper).

7.) Strain potatoes when ready (adults only!): once the potatoes are fully cooked, turn off the heat but do not strain them until you have everything ready and assembled for mashing. It is essential that the potatoes are steaming hot when you mash them or they will get those dreaded hard lumps. For mashing you need: a big bowl, potato masher, your heated butter/cream/milk mixture, salt and pepper at hand, and a big wooden spoon.

8.) Transfer to large bowl, pour the heated mixture on top, and mash (ages 5 and up for mashing only, with help): place the potatoes in the large bowl, pour your heated butter/cream/milk mixture on top and get mashing! Add more heated milk as needed and season with salt and pepper to taste if the seasoning in the cream mixture wasn’t strong enough. When you have mashed most of the lumps out, continue beating with the wooden spoon but only for a few minutes or your mashed potatoes could become “gluey” . . . ewwwy.

9.) Eat or store in the refrigerator until ready to reheat: cover tightly with plastic wrap or transfer to an airtight container and store in the fridge for up to 4 days before reheating. When ready to reheat: place the potatoes into a big pot or saucepan, add up to 1/4 cup milk (a little at a time) and reheat on medium heat, stirring often.

Gimme some GOLD!

Maple Bacon Braised Brussels Sprouts with Toasted Pecans

*about 1 hour prep time with kids*

I know what you’re thinking: “are you kidding me? We went from the ever-popular potato to the dreaded nemesis Brussels Sprouts?” I hear you. Even our son who has a very daring palate scrunched his nose at the mention of brussels on the Thanksgiving kitchen-prep task-list. If you yourself feel bitter toward brussels, I would like to suggest that you may have never had them cooked properly. Let’s just say it: boiled brussels are barf. Braised with bacon though . . . it’s a whole other side to brussels. Even so, these candied-bacon beauties are admittedly more for the adults at your feast than they are for the kids. They have even been our adult guests’ favorite dish in years past!

Nonetheless, I do have good reason to include these controversial vegetables in our kids’ Thanksgiving meal Skill School week! And that is that if we are to have any hopes that our kids will one day eat (and maybe even enjoy) brussels sprouts, then we have to make sure they see brussels sprouts, touch brussels sprouts, smell brussels sprouts, and hear brussels sprouts as they sizzle along with the ever-strategic candied bacon.

The best way I know of to entice a child to eat something is to grow it in a garden with them. For whatever reason, our kids have never turned their nose up to trying anything that we spent days in the summer sun watering and weeding and watching spring into miraculous bloom. The next best way I know to entice a child to eat something is to cook it with them and make them a captive audience to the sensory celebration of the target fruit or vegetable. And the last best way I know of for enticing a child to eat something is for us parents to be the example and eat it (whatever it may be) with as much satisfaction and enthusiasm as we can muster.

So, to close the sprouts subject, I am not claiming that this recipe will change your child’s mind and turn them, in one Thanksgiving-day-miracle, into a brussels sprouts fanatic. I am merely suggesting that as adults we rarely love fruits and vegetables that we weren’t regularly introduced to as children. Tell your child up front that he or she does not have to eat the brussels sprouts at Thanksgiving, but you would simply love help in preparing them. Then let them see and touch and smell and scrunch their noses to their heart’s content and don’t mention the topic again. Say a prayer over the maple syrup and the bacon and the braising to work a little magic, and you never know.


*Adapted from*


All we’ve changed to the below recipe is to reduce the pepper by half for my hubby . . . I mean for the kids of course . . . and to add toasted pecans which we think takes this dish over the top. The pecans deliver a really rustic look and a decadent crunch and flavor to this amazing Thanksgiving day veggie side dish!

  • 4 cups Brussels Sprouts (washed, trimmed, and halved lengthwise)
  • 6 strips of bacon (pork, turkey, or vegan)
  • 6 tb butter or vegetable oil
  • 4 tb maple syrup
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • *optional* 1/2 cup chopped pecans

Let’s get Cookin’!

*click here to check out our tips for kicking it with kids in the kitchen*

1.) Thoroughly wash brussels sprouts (ages 2 and up with help)

2.) De-bug and rewash if needed (adults only unless you want your kids to have yet another reason to hate brussels sprouts)

I know!! Eww! I’m still so grossed out from yesterday’s turkey neck that this wasn’t actually as bad as it usually is. Maybe I’m manning up, I don’t know. The good news is that your brussels may be absolutely perfect and have not a bug in them. Some years the brussels are buggy, and some years they aren’t. Unfortunately, the more organic the brussel, the more the aphids tend to love it.

If you need to de-bug your brussels: start peeling off the first few layers of leaves as needed to expose those blueish boogers. Wash them away and dry your brussels. Take your time and breathe . . . they will get clean. And don’t stress about the wasted leaves.

3.) Trim off the stems (ages 7 and up with help and best judgement)

4.) Cut each in half lengthwise (ages 7 and up with help and best judgment)

Fun fact: my Gram told me today that cutting these bad boys in half is a key step to helping them off-gas their bitterness! See, if we all just vented that pent-up bitterness once and a while that we’ve been keeping bundled up under all those layers . . . we need to take a tip from the brussels and say what we need to say!

4.) Store fully dry, trimmed, and cut brussels in a covered container for up to 2 days before cooking


  • Cut bacon into small 1/2-1 inch squares (this step may be done ahead if you wish)
  • Heat pan to medium heat and toast pecan pieces for about 5 minutes, then remove
  • Turn the heat up to medium high, grease with 1-2 tsp of oil, and cook bacon squares until just crisping
  • Promptly remove just-crisping bacon and add your butter to the same pan with bacon fat/drippings (work fast to avoid burning)
  • Add the brussels sprouts all in one go and then quickly work to get them all face down in the pan but only spend about 1 minute on this step or the brussels will burn (I’ve found this makes for beautiful caramelization)
  • Sautee the brussels moving them and tossing them around until they begin to brown
  • Add bacon bits, toasted pecans, and maple syrup to the pan, stirring often as you go
  • Once the maple syrup has coated the brussels, watch for deep caramelization to occur . . . then remove from heat, season with salt and pepper and stir to distribute
  • Place in a serving dish and eat up!

Thanks for Kickin’ it in the Kitchen with us this past week! Happy Thanksgiving! And DON’T FORGET: “Good moms (and dads) let their kids lick the spoon!”

Thanks for reading!

Love, ~Our Holistic Homeschool~

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