Kids in the Kitchen can make your life easier

In our last edition we were silly. Now, let’s get practical and deal with an issue that comes up every single day. It’s meal preparation. How can you make it easier on yourself? When do you start teaching the kids how to prepare meals?

For those who want to take advantage of my travels to hold a workshop or event when I’m in their town here’s the plan for the next little while. I am going to Ottawa in May, very possibly to Calgary in the late spring or early summer. I will be in Washington state and Oregon in August and Winnipeg in December. If you have an event around these times and would like to take advantage of my travels please contact me. I’d love to work with you.

What’s for dinner?

Ever find yourself standing in front of the refrigerator trying to figure out what to serve for dinner? Of course you have. Maybe every day.

Want someone else to make the decision? I know I’ve often felt that it’s not the cooking I mind; it’s the planning.

The answer?

Get your kids in on the act. Most kids see cooking as fun rather than work. So let them play. And before they know it they’ll be cooking great meals while you relax.

Cooking is one of those chores we often forget when we think about getting kids involved in helping out around the house.  We ask them to take out the garbage, set the table, load the dishwasher and even help put away groceries.  All jobs that need doing, but not much fun and certainly not creative.

Preparing tasty and nutritious meals is a skill they will need when they are ready to head off on their own.  The earlier they start, the better they will do.  And while they are still at home, you are the beneficiary.

To start, create a kid-friendly work area. It might be easier for them to work at the kitchen table than at the counter. If they are working at the counter make sure they have a sturdy chair or stool to stand on.

Then teach them the fundamentals. They need to learn how to measure, how to mix wet and dry and how to sauté.

Even toddlers can get involved.  Okay, I know this will not speed up the process but if they’re working with you in the kitchen they’re not bugging you to try to get your attention.  Little ones can stir dry ingredients, tear lettuce and fetch things.  Give them jobs that are safe and short-term.  For example, you can send a child across the room to get a can of soup from a lower cupboard.  He does the job and he’s finished – good job!  If he is still keen he can do another job and so on for as long as he’s willing.   When we give toddlers jobs that are simple and take only a few minutes we can expect that they will finish the task but aren’t asking for a commitment that a young child just can’t yet make.

Preschoolers can have a say in the menu.  Start by offering choices.  Do you want chicken or pork chops tonight?  We can barbeque the chops or cook them in the oven, which would you prefer? They will want to know the differences between cooking them each way and you can take the opportunity to be teaching them about different foods and different preparation methods.

As they get older and more experienced you can let them plan and prepare meals. At first you will work together in both the planning and preparation but before you know it, your child will be able to put a simple meal on the table.  It’s a break for you and your little chef will be so proud of himself.

Give them a crash course in nutrition. Let them know that they need to plan meals that include foods from a variety of food groups. I remember telling our kids that a salad had to have more than just carrots. They loved carrots.

There are good cookbooks available for kids. Once they’re old enough to read, go through them and choose ones appropriate for their age and that fit with how your family likes to eat.

It’s also fun to teach each of your children how to prepare a dish that is a family favourite.  So that child becomes the expert at that dish and every time you are going to serve it, she is called to do the job.

Helping in the kitchen has many benefits.  First, they want your attention while you’re trying to prepare meals so you may as well have them working with you getting your attention and developing an important skill at the same time.  They are learning about nutrition and about making choices and planning.  And, their self-esteem is getting a healthy boost.  If we sit down to a meal that was prepared by ten-year-old Melissa, she is going to feel terrific about herself.  If we have a cake for desert and three-year-old Juan stirred the ingredients, he will know that he had an important role to play in providing this cake that everyone is enjoying.

Make meal preparation a family affair.  Then kick back and let someone else plan and cook your dinner.






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