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Cooking with the Kids

Dec 17 2020
5 min read
overhead image of woman's hands and child's hands rolling dough on wooden cutting board

Your kitchen can be a place of warmth, tradition, and, if you have kids around, endless fun.

Get children involved in creating simple, healthy meals and snacks, and enjoy the togetherness and tasty results of your efforts. Everyone can participate, from toddlers to teens. One benefit of involving the kids is that research shows that children (and adults) eat more when they have a hand in meal planning and preparation, so bring on the healthy cuisine!

The 3 P's of Healthy Cooking

Planning, Purchasing, and Preparing help you create healthy meals. To make the best use of your time and guarantee delicious, well-balanced family meals, think ahead about:

Planning – Involve the Whole Gang in Creating Menus

  • Ask every family member to contribute ideas for weekly menus. Try to incorporate something from each person’s suggestions.
  • Have a theme night – or two or three. Go beyond Meatless Monday or Taco Tuesday (although those are great staples) and include your family favorites. Explore different ethnic cuisines for exposure to new tastes – decorate as if you’re visiting somewhere exotic.
  • Have the kids look up recipes online or in a cookbook featuring foods they like.
  • Post a weekly menu with assignments on the fridge, so everyone knows the plan and how they can help.

Purchasing – A Good Shopping List Helps

  • Once the menu is set, create a shopping list for the week.
  • Only purchase as much fresh produce as your family can realistically use. Consider buying in bulk and freezing half for future use, or buy frozen fruit, vegetables, etc., to supplement fresh produce.
  • Show your kids how to read food labels and avoid foods that contain hydrogenated fats, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, colorings, and preservatives.
  • Let your little helper put away the groceries. Talk about how you’ll use each item to make something wonderful together.

Preparing – Hands-On Action To Create Fabulous Food

  • Keep a regular mealtime.
  • Set aside enough time for meal prep.
  • Try a new vegetable or fruit at least once a week.
  • Try different approaches to including vegetables (add to casseroles, mashed, blended into marinara sauce, shredded into pancakes, etc.).
  • Give everyone a job to help get the meal on the table: Even little ones can use a butter knife to slice soft produce, such as banana or avocado, with a bit of supervision; older kids can help with more complex food prep. Learning to follow a recipe is a great skill for life.
  • Food prep is a great teaching tool. Talk about colors as you wash produce with your toddler. Show elementary-aged kids how important fractions are as you follow a recipe. Explain to older kids about the energy and good nutrition that comes from making healthy, whole-food choices.
  • One child can set the table; another can pour the drinks.
  • Balance a take-out favorite, such as pizza, by adding a green salad or a fruit salad.

Sharing Family Meals – Make Mealtime A Pleasant Adventure

Consider which suggestions might work for your family:

  • Eat as a family as often as possible, because memories are made around the table.
  • Teach your kids the practice of mindful eating – being aware of tastes and textures and remembering why we eat. Help your family recognize and honor the opportunity for self-care provided by each meal.
  • Meals in focus: It may be tempting to multi-task and eat in front of the TV or computer, or while reading. Carve out time reserved for family meals, relaxing together, and enjoying the experience.
  • Practice gratitude by saying grace or a personal affirmation before meals. Whether religious or secular, this is a lovely ritual and an opportunity to acknowledge that you’re choosing the foods that are best for you and your family.
  • Focus mealtime conversation on positive issues – no contentious discussion over dinner!
  • Avoid conflict by allowing children some latitude about what and how much they eat.
  • Do not be discouraged if the kids don’t like a new food the first time. It can take time for them to accept a different food, especially for very young children.
  • Be a healthy role model to encourage healthy eating habits.
  • Link choosing a healthy diet with concern for the environment.
  • Avoid using sweets/dessert, as a reward for eating dinner – experiencing a delicious meal together is a reward in itself!