Kids in the kitchen
As a working mom with four growing children, getting healthy meals on the table is a daily challenge.
My children have the kind of appetites that provoke “I cannot believe how much ______ eats!” comments from anyone who shares a meal with them. And they have such high metabolisms, it’s a necessity for us to buy pants that come with elastic-button pull-tighteners.
Cooking daily for six is a big enough challenge on its own. But when I have to double the portions — or when my children are requesting a second breakfast before they leave for school — it seems I could make feeding them a full-time job!
As my kids — ages 4, 6, 8 and 11 — begin to take on more responsibilities, I’m trying to work smarter, not harder, by teaching them responsibility and self-sufficiency.
This means involving my kids in the kitchen in practical and meaningful ways — teaching them how help prepare healthy snacks and simple meals, so they’re doing a little more contributing, not just consuming.
Proactive snack time
If I didn’t offer them any guidance or direction, my children would probably be perfectly content eating granola bars and other packaged, processed foods all day long.
We typically have these on hand for quick and easy snacks, especially when we’re on the go.
Although many of these types of snacks appear to be good for us, they aren’t really the most nutritious or even cost-effective options.
Hands down, whole foods are best for us. But if we want to eat whole foods, we must have them readily available. We also need to be role models when making our own food choices.
We can encourage our school-age kids to make healthy snack choices by starting conversations about the importance of good nutrition to fuel their bodies. Check out an extensive guide by Lisa Leake at 100daysofrealfood.com (tinyurl.com/100days-mn).
We also need to stock our refrigerators and pantries with simple, yet sustainable healthful snacks such as fruit, vegetables, yogurt, cheese, hard-boiled eggs, whole grain breads and nuts.
When our kids understand what constitutes a healthy snack choice and when options are readily available, I believe they’re more likely to gravitate toward healthful choices.
School-age kids can learn how to prepare simple meals with guidance from adults.
My three big kids have mastered cereal, toast and bagel breakfast options and my two oldest are building confidence with some simple stovetop dishes such as scrambled eggs, omelets, grilled cheese sandwiches, quesadillas and noodles.
My 11-year-old daughter has developed an interest in baking and has independently made batches of cookies, muffins and cakes, boosting her confidence and expanding upon her basic culinary skills.
My younger kids like to be involved in the kitchen by measuring and stirring — and of course quality control (tasting and sampling).
I recently made Grab-and-Go Granola Bars — featured in In the Kitchen — from Deanna Cook’s gorgeous book, Cooking Class: 57 Fun Recipes Kids Will Love to Make (and Eat!).
I’ve found when kids become more active participants in the kitchen, they become more interested — and maybe even a little more appreciative — of what they’re eating.
I’ve also put one of the strategies from Kim John Payne’s book, Simplicity Parenting, into practice to support my efforts.
I’ve followed his suggestion to create a generalized weekly meal plan: Lately we’ve been having soup night on Mondays, Mexican on Tuesdays, homemade pizzas on Wednesdays, pasta on Thursdays and fried rice on Fridays.
This has worked well for our family, and with the predictability of each meal’s theme, there’s been opportunity for experimentation for my whole family when selecting recipes and ingredients.
For example, on some of our pizza nights we make personal pizzas. We’ve found some unique pizza topping inspiration on Pinterest and my kids have expanded their palates with creative topping choices.
I encourage you to involve your child(ren) in the kitchen. You may be surprised how much they can contribute while learning important life skills.
Megan Devine is an elementary school teacher who lives with her husband and four children in Northeastern Minnesota. Follow her on Instagram @megtdevine. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org.