Children naturally gravitate toward the kitchen. Why not take advantage of that, and use your time together as a teaching tool? There are many great reasons for teaching your child to navigate his or her way around the kitchen. The more involved children are, the more ownership they can take in their health and personal food choices.
Introduce new foods: Even the pickiest of eaters is more apt to try a dish if he has had a hand in preparing it. When they have torn up the parsley themselves and sprinkled it onto a dish, they are less likely to complain about the “green thing” in their soup because they already know what it is. Repeatedly introducing new foods and getting the kids excited about them will help them to enjoy a more varied diet. Use the time together in the kitchen to discuss the benefits of each new food and of good nutrition. Of course, serving a new dish beside the child’s beloved mac and cheese won’t hurt either. Find a balance between new and tried-and-true.
Involve them in the menu process: Children love the importance of making decisions, especially those that will affect the whole family. Sit down with your child and let them help you make a menu for the week. Give them some guidelines first. For example, you may want to lay out the structure of having a main dish and two side vegetables for each meal or that pasta can only be served once during the week. Let your child choose the entire menu while working within your guidelines, and then follow through and cook those meals together. They will be so excited every evening to help and also to eat dinner, because they have ownership in the meals.
Let them be your kitchen hands: Sometimes this takes a little patience on your part, but letting children help assist in meal preparation is a great way for them to learn. Even little ones can help measure, pour, wash vegetables, crack eggs, mash potatoes and tear apart fresh herbs. They can help wipe off the table or countertops, and set the table. As they get older, they can usually handle jobs like chopping vegetables, stirring things at the stove, flipping pancakes or even scrambling eggs.
Enjoy the learning process: The kitchen provides a real-life classroom where children are using their brains! They use math in measuring and sometimes converting recipes. Things like proofing yeast and the rising of bread are great science lessons, as well as just observing how different foods react to being cooked. All sorts of reading happens in the kitchen, from reading recipes and directions, to finding the nutrition information on packaging.
Get creative: Snack time is a great time to give children a little more flexibility in making their own creations. It gives them an opportunity to play with their food in a good way. Teach them about food presentation and making things on the plate fun to look at, while still including healthy food options.
Including kids in the kitchen can be fun and rewarding. It is a great way to enjoy some quality time with your children. You are teaching them skills they will use their whole lifetime, and by including them in decision making, you are empowering them to make healthy food choices for life.