We need to get our kids in the kitchen more! We are raising them in a world where almost everything is available pre-made, pre-cooked, or pre-prepared, and sadly, that food is largely responsible for our rising rates of childhood obesity and Type II Diabetes. When we cook at home, too often we are rushed and it’s just easier to do it ourselves. Part of raising healthy eaters means giving kids at least the basic skills they need to cook and the education as to why it’s so important to eat real food. If we can instill a little joy and love of cooking in the process, even better!
Get your children in the kitchen early, so it becomes a part of their daily life and your household routine. If weeknights are crazy, find some time on the weekend for the more involved tasks. Here’s a list of some simple things your kids can do now, even at a young age:
Wash & peel veggies: Use a dull peeler, teach them to peel away from their gripping hand.
Strip stems & spin leafy greens: Teach them how to remove the stems from greens like kale or chard. Invest in a basic salad spinner and they can wash and spin the greens too. If it’s a kale salad you’re making, let them get their hands in there and massage the dressing into the kale leaves – it’s a messy job they love!
Wash the dishes! Even the little ones can do this. Start them with unbreakable items and slowly move them up to glassware & heavier items as they get older. Mine are 10 and wash everything now except the chef knives.
Set & clear the table: This one is such a selfish lifesaver for me. This has been on the chore list since my children could carry plates and now they set for all family dinners and even fancy occasions.
Measure: Teach them early how to read measuring spoons and cups, level flour, pack a cup, add a pinch, etc.
Empty the dishwasher: Yes, your children should know where everything goes! I divide the dishwasher up between sections and we rotate through them. Even the youngest child can sort basic cutlery into the drawer.
Grate: As long as we supervise younger children, there is no reason why kids can’t grate cheese, lemon rind, carrots, zucchini, etc., using a box grater.
Mix, whisk and stir: Teach them the basics — Always hold the bowl with one hand while stirring with the other, add flour gradually, etc.
Design a menu: Give them the opportunity to plan a healthy meal, and you’ll be amazed at how much more involved they’ll want to be in its preparation. Set healthy boundaries (i.e. dinner must contain two veggies, a protein, some healthy fat) and let them create away within those. They can then make a grocery list, find what they need with you at the store, come home, prepare the meal and even serve it in style!
Follow a recipe: Start with basic, no-cook recipes, like toast, smoothies, or a sandwich and gradually add recipes with more steps, like hard-boiled eggs, oatmeal, and basic baking and stovetop cooking. Get a recipe binder going for each child, with the recipes they have mastered and the ones they want to try, and their notes on how they liked it, and what they might change next time. You will be absolutely amazed at where this leads: massive amounts of confidence, creativity and pride in the kitchen.
Wendy McCallum, LLB, RHN, is passionate about providing busy parents with the tools & support they need to feed their families wholesome food, so everyone can play, learn, and feel better! She is a mother of two terrific nine-year old kids. For information and recipe ideas, visit her website or pick-up her cookbook