Preparing a healthy meal can involve children
Getting a healthy dinner on the table is a lot easier said than done when you have kids screaming, hanging from your legs or pulling at your shirt tails, but that doesn’t make it any less important. It is possible to keep children of any age entertained and involved in the kitchen … it just takes a little creativity! Here are a few fun ideas to keep your kids happy and keep your whole family healthy:
Babies and Toddlers
Nap time is a great time to tackle meal planning, food preparation or cooking. If that isn’t an option, make sure your baby is well-rested, has a fresh diaper and has recently had a meal or nursing session before you start cooking. A dry baby with a full belly is a happy baby. For younger babies, keep an exersaucer or bouncy chair in the kitchen so you can pop baby in when it’s time to cook. You can even wear your little one in a carrier and talk to her about what you are doing (as long as you aren’t putting them in the way of anything too hot or sharp).
For older toddlers, set up a play kitchen or just get out some pots and pans for them to play with. All children love music, so turn kitchen time into a dance party. Turn on some music or sing a song and dance around to keep your baby giggling and entertained while you cook. It might even be a little bit of fun for you, too.
Two- to 5-Year-Olds
Even as young as two years old, kids can begin to help with simple kitchen tasks. Think stirring ingredients, pushing the button on the blender or food processor or adding ingredients to a bowl. A learning tower or tall stool can help kids safely reach the counter. Of course, you have to use your best judgement to determine what your child is ready for, but it can be a lot of fun to cook together. Children love to do just what their parents are doing so they will enjoy helping out in any way possible.
Whether your child is an active participant in the cooking process or watching from the sidelines, make sure you are talking to them about what you are doing. Talk to them about healthy foods and how they make you big and strong.
At this age, you really have the opportunity to get your kids involved with shopping and meal planning, too. To ensure they make healthy choices, instead of asking “What do you want to eat?”, ask “Which vegetables should we have with dinner tonight?” You can also begin to serve meals “family style” so kids can choose which foods they want to eat. When all of the choices are healthy choices, you can feel good about letting them design their own meal.
Elementary School Age
Once children are in elementary school, they can handle a wide range of kitchen tasks. Again, you need to use your best judgement, but they should be able to even help with measuring (a great math lesson!) and chopping ingredients.
You can really amp up the real food education with elementary school age children, too. A great example is to turn grocery shopping into a game. Let your child help you find items on the shelves and discuss the health benefits of the foods you find. You can also have them choose a new fruit or vegetable each week and then head home to find creative ways to prepare it.
Published in the October/November issue of Southern Indiana Fitness Source
// Tarah Chieffi