Here is your comprehensive checklist on how to include your kids in meal and snack prep (without losing your mind!). As a mom of three kids who happens to be a pediatric dietitian, I can promise you this!
Did you know that getting kids involved in the kitchen, with planning and prepping meals and snacks will boost the likelihood that they will eat more and be more adventurous when it comes to trying new foods? When kids have had a hand in preparing a meal, they are more likely to sit down to family meals (which boasts many short-term and long-term benefits) and actually eat the foods that they have helped prepare. Helping in the kitchen decreases picky eating tendencies, boosts self-confidence, offers a sense of accomplishment and helps to develop lifelong cooking skills (not to mention healthier eating habits long-term).
The earlier you start including your kids, the quicker they will build skills and confidence in the kitchen (and the quicker their “help” actually becomes … helpful!). It also gives parents and kids a chance to bond and spend quality time together.
But let’s get real.
It also requires a bit more time, some serious patience (especially if you’re A-type like me), and a little more clean-up. But the pay-off is well worth it, I promise!
You can include your kids at any stage–meal planning, grocery shopping, prepping and cooking the meal. You can also have them set the table, clear plates and help with clean up too!
There are a few things that will save your sanity when you choose to involve your little ones in meal and snack prep. How to include your kids in the kitchen…without losing your mind:
1) Choose easy, delicious recipes that don’t take too much time:
This is KEY. There’s nothing worse than realizing mid-prep that the recipe you chose is too time-consuming, too complicated or that you don’t have all the ingredients on hand (especially when you have an impatient toddler who is ready to get cooking!). That’s a recipe for frustration, impatience and cranky kids. It’s important to choose simple, nutritious, tasty, family-friendly recipes that don’t require too much planning, prep or fuss. Here are a few of my faves: One-Pot Southwestern Chicken and Quinoa Skillet, Weeknight, One-Pan Thai Peanut Noodles, and One Pan Burrito Bowls. What I love about these recipes is that it makes the meal prep process easy and fun, so that I can focus on my kids, and not stress about it (and get frustrated with my kids in the process!).
One ingredient that we love to use is pasta (who doesn’t love pasta?). My son’s favourite pasta recipe (by far) is this Easy and Nutritious “Superhero” Green Pasta Recipe. The sauce is tasty and fun for kids (and adults!) and is also LOADED full of nutrition, with zucchini, avocado, greens and more.
2) Have a list of age-appropriate tasks that your kids can do:
You want to keep your kids busy with fun tasks that make them feel like they’re truly helping. To minimize boredom (and keep you sane), have a list of tasks to draw from during the meal prep/cooking process (I’ve actually gone ahead and created a free downloadable one for you below!). You want to make sure that the tasks that you’re giving your kids are safe, fun and age-appropriate.
Here are some tasks that you can get your kids to help with in the kitchen, by age:
- wash fruits and veggies
- peel stickers off fruits and veggies
- dump ingredients into a bowl
- whisk/mix ingredients
- put muffin cups into muffin tins
- tear leafy greens
- hand you utensils such as a wooden spoon
- press the “on” button on the rice cooker
- add toppings to salads, oatmeal, pasta etc.
- wipe tabletops
- remove eggshells from hard-boiled eggs
- pour from a small pitcher or measuring cup
- husk corn
- make a sandwich or pizza with pre-assembled ingredients
- cut spaghetti or linguini with a plastic knife or kid’s scissors
- mash fruits and veggies like sweet potatoes, turnips, carrots or bananas
- peel oranges
- assemble a colourful fruit salad (with fruit that is bite-sized or pre-cut)
- pick fruits and veggies from garden, and then rinse them
- spread peanut butter on toast and add toppings
- help to menu planning
- set the table, serve and clear
- assemble foods such as a yogurt parfait, smoothie, or salad
- stir ingredients together (like muffins, pancakes, sauces)
- slice soft-cooked vegetables, soft fruit, cheese or tofu with a plastic knife (or real knife if you’re supervising)
- spiralize veggies
- beat an egg
- use simple kitchen equipment (ie. grater, toaster, blender, food processor or can opener) after you show them how to do so safely
- assemble a pasta salad by combining all of the ingredients and tossing with salad dressing
- set the table on their own
- pour water or milk
- measure ingredients
- flip pancakes or French toast (with your supervision)
- pour muffin batter into muffin cups and putting them in the oven
Here is a free “Kids in The Kitchen” printable, with a list of age-appropriate tasks for kids helping out with meal and snack prep.
3) Be safe:
Although getting your kids into the kitchen for meal and snack prep is fun, sparks creativity and builds confidence, it can also be dangerous if you’re not careful (think sharp knives, raw meat, hot stove, and buzzing appliances).
Make sure to practice food safety (especially when it comes to hand washing and handling raw meat), and protect your kids from heat and boiling liquids, and be extra careful when handling sharp knives and utensils.
The bottom line on including your kids in the kitchen?
Getting your kids to help in the kitchen not only nurtures their relationship with food, but also builds self-confidence, teaches important life skills, and allows for special family time. With a bit of patience, an open mind and a sense of humour, your kids can become fantastic sous-chefs and kitchen helpers!