With today’s culture of low-nutrient, quick-fix snacks and meals, teaching kids about food and nutrition is incredibly important. A great place to start is in the kitchen. Children who help prepare meals and snacks can improve their palette, develop better coordination, learn basic math skills, and strengthen the bond between parent and child.
Allowing a child to help cook often sparks their interest in eating a variety of foods, something children are notoriously bad at. Naturally, caution is of utmost importance. Start out with small, safe tasks and advance as you determine your child’s skill level. Keep in mind to be patient. Undoubtedly, the cooking and cleanup process will take a bit longer than usual, but the extra time spent with your child and the skills they will develop will be well worth the time commitment.
Teach your child the importance of safety and cleanliness; involve them in the preparation by having them help wipe down the counter and get out utensils. After prepping the cooking area, your child can help wash fruits and vegetables. Depending on your child’s age, it may be safe to let them use a plastic, serrated lettuce knife or butter knife to help slice mushrooms, spinach, lettuce, etc. A ‘Y’ peeler is also recommended for helping peel items. Explain the steps as you go along, detailing why you add certain spices or foods to the dish.
Other ways to involve your child in the cooking process are cracking eggs, mashing, breaking or tearing items (like dry noodles or green beans), pouring, mixing, and grating. Every child’s development is on a different timeline, so start small and add tasks when it seems safe.
Simple meals like wraps, toast, salads and sandwiches are great for any age and allow for creativity and flavor exploration. With your guidance, your child can choose the ingredients and possibly assemble the foods themselves. Introduce them to new fruits and vegetables, vibrant colors and unique dishes. As your child gains skills give them more independence in the kitchen.
When your child becomes more familiar with food and their personal tastes, allow them to help plan meals. Eventually, the goal is to have your child making their own meals, thus taking control of their own nutrition. The earlier children learn about eating healthy and how to prepare their own meals, the more those guidelines will stick with them as they venture out on their own in the future.
Here are a couple of recipes your children can help make:
Makes 2 servings • Prep time: 8 minutes
- 2 slices whole-grain toast
- 1 ripe avocado
- Toast bread slices.
- While toasting bread, halve avocado and remove the seed. Scrape out avocado and mash with a pinch of salt and pepper.
- Spread avocado mixture onto toasted bread.
Mini Tortilla Pizzas
Makes 2 servings • Prep time: 15 minutes
- 4 corn tortillas
- 3 T. olive oil
- Diced vegetables
- ½ cup pizza sauce
- Shredded cheese
- Meat of choice, optional
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Once heated, place corn tortillas directly on the oven rack until crisp (about 5 minutes). When crisping tortillas, watch them closely at the end as they burn quickly.
- Dice vegetables fairly small so they are easily distributed on the mini pizza. In a skillet, heat olive oil and sauté vegetables until cooked through.
- Spread desired amount of pizza sauce on crisped tortillas, then layer on pizza toppings. Place mini pizzas back in oven until cheese is melted (about 5 minutes).
- Allow pizzas to cool before eating.