Having your kids contribute to the family meal is beneficial for everyone. And the earlier they get involved, the better. Not only does it help take the pressure off the cook in the house, but it also helps kids learn some much-needed skills and build self-esteem. Meals are not only sustenance; they are also math and art! Categorizing and counting come into play just as much as decorating and dishing.
Here is an age-appropriate chart to help get your kids involved in the process:
Get your kids to organize cans and boxes in the cupboard by size or shape or by type of food. (This sets them up for the pattern recognition they will need for preschool on up)
Involve them in mixing and stirring dry ingredients. (Dry ingredients are relatively safe, should there be a little nibbling)
Check out this quick video for Healthy Cheat Chicken Fingers. Any kid can mix the coating and stir the sauce while an adult slices the chicken. It is way better than cleaning up Play-Doh!
Ask your kids to help make a shopping list by identifying what is low or empty. (This helps with understanding the concept of organization and budgeting)
Get them involved in spinning and tossing salads or stirring and shaking dressings
Beginner baking! Ask them to add ingredients like fruit or nuts and seeds to mixes. It helps build the awareness of layering in healthy foods to their treats.
Encourage them to help with cleaning out the fridge and identifying what has been there too long
They can definitely carry groceries from the door to the fridge/cupboard and organize them, too
Ask them to be an involved participant in creating lunch lists of foods they enjoy
Get them to chop celery, peppers, cheese cubes and hummus for after-school snacks
Kids at this age can take over washing and prepping fruits for dessert
Work together (but let them take the lead) on food prep for meals
Encourage them to prepare simple recipes for the family meal. Build up to preparing one meal per week on their own. Omelets, pasta dishes, pizza with salad are all good starting places.
Ask them to write the shopping list and meal plan for the week
Get them involved in grocery shopping/putting away – and ordering groceries online (if necessary)
Have them create a “Signature Dish” that they contribute to parties and gatherings
Ages 15 to 21
You should be able to walk away from the kitchen and have the entire thing done for you. If they have been guided well all along, they will be ready to feed themselves well, budget, prepare and clean up. Many kids go away to school by 17 and they need to have this most basic skill well in hand before they do that.
It helps to keep the perspective of guiding the child to be a self-sufficient, healthy adult. Meal planning, prep and clean up isn’t a chore, it is a joy. It is all in how you sell it.
Families in European countries have been handing down recipes for generations and the process is a shared family event. If you begin to look at the investment as time well spent together, supporting and nourishing body and spirit, they will too.
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