Note from Wardee: Please welcome new contributing writer Katie Baldridge from SimpleFoody.org! You can read more about Katie in her bio below this post.
The art of food preservation has been passed on from generation to generation for thousands of years. It was, and still is in some cultures, a necessary means of survival. But somewhere along the way we've lost the urgency to pass on the most needed skills of life, how to grow, store, and cook food. Most people my age were never taught the skills their grandmothers or mothers possess. But just because we we're taught those skills doesn't mean we can't learn them and teach them to our children.Even the littlest of children show zeal when getting to work side by side with mom or dad. Use this to your advantage. Dehydration is a great preservation method to teach small children as the danger of hot water from canning isn't present. Bananas are a great starting-out fruit. Teach your child how to peel a banana properly without mushing the sweet fruit inside. A child as young as 5 can cut through the soft flesh of a banana.
Show your child on a ruler how long 1/4-inch and a 1/2-inch are. Demonstrate the difference by cutting banana slices in each thickness. Explain to them how dehydrating works and why it is best to cut the banana slices 1/4-inch thick and to be consistent when slicing.
If you're new to dehydrating yourself and aren't sure why 1/4-inch is preferred, lean in and I'll tell you a secret. The larger the fruit is the longer it will take to dehydrate. 1/4-inch for bananas is generally the preferred size when dehydrating bananas to get a dry, crisp, yet flexible banana ‘chip'. This also prevents food spoilage. You want the slices uniform in size so they will all be done drying around the same time.
No sharp tools are needed for cutting through a banana. A simple butter knife will do. Demonstrate how it's done to your child and then let them go at it. It's okay if they are not all the same size in this lesson as we are trying to teach the hows and whys. Once the bananas are sliced, show them how to lay the pieces out on a dehydrating tray, close, but not touching to ensure air flow around each sweet morsel.
Have your child do as much by themselves as possible. Once the trays are full, place them in the dehydrator and dehydrate at 110 degrees Fahrenheit for 24 to 36 hours, or until the bananas are thoroughly dry.
Show your child how to then store the chips to prevent spoiling. We do this in glass quart jars, then seal with a food saver jar sealer accessory.
Then let your child enjoy the fruit of their labors! Step back and watch him/her beam with pride and a sense of self worth as they have successfully helped put up and store food for the family for winter. If there were some larger banana pieces that didn't get dry, this is a great time to show that to your child and explain why we should be diligent to make sure we cut the slices 1/4-inch thick next time. Don't be a perfectionist; this dampens the joy.
As an example, my 6 year-old cut varying thicknesses in the photos above. We ate the pieces that were too big and didn't dehydrate well. We stored the smaller ones for a quick winter time snack. You will need to be the judge of your child's maturity and how much they can learn and properly do without presenting harm to themselves.
Also — no need to stick to bananas only. With an egg slicer, a child can easy slice mushrooms or strawberries for dehydrating. Have a 3 or 4 year old who wants to help? Get a banana slicer and watch them slice away with perfect uniformity!
What foods do your children help you dehydrate? What lessons have you learned?
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