Let Them Choose
Get your kids involved from the very start of the home canning process by letting them pick the recipes. This is a good opportunity to talk about what produce is in season in your area. Better yet, take them to a farmer’s market, farm stand, or u-pick farm to help gather the ingredients. If they have a hand in deciding what they will be making, they will be more excited and interested in the entire process—which, as anyone who has pitted three dozen cherries knows, can be tedious at times!
Give Everyone a Job
The great thing about canning as a family is that there are plenty of people to help. Once you have your recipes and ingredients, divvy up the task list by age. Small children can help with jobs like removing leaves and stems, snapping beans, or cleaning produce. Older children can wash canning jars and lids in warm, soapy water and help fill jars. If they have experience using knives, bigger kids can help chop and prep ingredients. (Always keep an eye on kids when they are using knives or handling sharp objects.) Adults should always handle hot liquids and the processing of jars—lifting jars in and out of boiling water can be dangerous. Set a good example and always use canning tongs and oven mitts.
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Children’s minds can wander and sometimes repetitive tasks don’t hold their attention. Even though it might take them longer to de-stem several baskets of strawberries or cut up a bushel of tomatoes, be patient and let them complete the job themselves.
Talk About the Process
If your kids are old enough to understand the basic science behind canning, talk to them about how the process works. For example, fruits that are high in pectin (like apples and blackberries) create a naturally thick jam. Or explain why processing the jars in boiling water seals them and makes them shelf-stable. For more information on canning with kids, check out the National Center for Home Food Preservation’s youth canning program.
Enjoy the Fruits (or Veggies) of Your Labor
It might sound obvious, but be sure to eat what you’ve made! Many canning projects, especially recipes that require some time to ferment or age, end up hidden away and forgotten on basement or pantry shelves. As soon as you are able, crack open those jars and enjoy what’s inside. Better yet, give some jars away to friends and family. Your kids will be proud to show off their creations.