So you want to get the kids into the kitchen? Good idea! But just like other areas in life, half of the battle is in the presentation. So if you say, "You kids better come in here and work in the kitchen, or else," well, your tykes aren't going to want to lend a helping hand. Instead, say something like, "Hey there Johnny, here's a knife and some carrots, and you may cut the carrots into small pieces." That sounds like more fun. If Johnny is old enough to wield a knife, that is. For your younger kids, offer them the opportunity to whisk together dry ingredients or pour ingredients into a bowl or another age-appropriate task.
Have child-sized, child-friendly kitchenware on hand: small cutting boards, little graters, age- and size-appropriate knives. Set up the utensils and gadgets your kids will need to help with the meal and then explain to them what they need to do. And let them snack on the raw vegetables and grated cheese -- it will keep them interested in helping out. Yes, having children in the kitchen can get messy -- all that grated cheese everywhere -- but, remember, children love to help clean up, too! More so, if they were able to take part in making the meal.
As you introduce your children to cooking, start small and always give them close supervision to avoid injuries and mishaps. For example, children love to stir, so teach them how to stir pancake batter in a bowl on the counter while you watch. As they learn, teach them stove etiquette (a.k.a. tell them the burners are hot and to not touch them or place dish towels or long sleeves or hair near them), then let them stir a sauce on the stovetop while you are at their side.
Keep pots and pans low and accessible, so that children can reach them for playing and for putting things away. You may have to reorganize your pantry and cabinets, but the reward is having kids who love learning how to cook.
Though clean up isn't fun for Mom, it can certainly be for the kids. Genuinely tell your kids that washing dishes is fun and be a happy role model for them! Keep a low stool by the sink and be prepared for some small splashes. Have sponges in a rainbow of colors and dish rags in playful prints readily available to make clean up extra fun.
When children are involved with choosing ingredients -- or even growing ingredients -- for the family meals, they will be more likely to try new things. When you are at the grocery store, let your kids pick out fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Visit your local famers' market with your children and get to know the farmers -- your kids will enjoy being recognized by vendors that see them regularly. You can even visit the farms and pick your own produce.
Your picky eaters may become less reluctant to new or previously disliked foods if they are involved in shopping, prepping and presenting meals. Offer a variety of foods at meal times, and don't be discouraged if your picky eaters stay picky. We all know or have children who seem, for a time, to survive on water and air alone. But don't be discouraged. And definitely avoid power struggles. Keep in mind, we eat with our eyes, so present -- and teach your kids to present -- every meal in a beautiful and fun way (remember, half of the battle is in the presentation!). In addition, encourage independence and variety by having a shelf, drawer or basket filled with fresh fruit and healthy snacks.
Children thrive on a consistent schedule. Rhythm and routine gives children a sense of stability and security. Keep mealtimes regular and predictable. Certainly, it's hard sometimes with busy family schedules, but for the most part, keep mealtimes steady. Develop a mealtime routine, and assign certain (rotating) tasks to each child: set the table, serve the meal, clear the table, and so on. This will set the groundwork for your kids to find the importance of regularly scheduled meals.
Rhythm and routine doesn't mean boring meals. If you are in a food rut, create a weekly menu to add variety. Choose a certain cuisine for each night. For example, Monday can be Italian, Tuesday is Indian, Wednesday is Mexican, and so on. You can even pick a different cookbook for each night, letting your kids help you decide which recipes from each cookbook they want to try. Planning meals by color or the alphabet are also fun ways to keep your family mealtimes from becoming mundane.
Sharing meals as a family is an important factor in your children's view on food. Let them help make the meals and make mealtimes enjoyable for all. To further show your kids the importance of shared meals, have potlucks with your friends as a great way bring family and friends together and to also introduce new foods to your kids. As your kids become more involved in family meals, they will see that a shared meal is a wonderful way to celebrate life!
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