Teaching children to cook helps them learn about food and nutrition. It also gives them a taste of independence as they prepare their own food and plan menus, and it teaches them useful skills for the future. It might even mean that they will make your breakfast now and then, perhaps even in bed!
Beginning with breakfast
Do you want your kids to do better in tests and behave better in class? Want to cut the chances of them becoming overweight? Make sure that they eat breakfast. It's as simple as that. But it's not easy. In an ideal world, everyone would get a leisurely and nourishing breakfast sitting together around the table as a family, but for most people, mornings are not like that. With the rush to get everyone's bags packed, homework sorted, and school buses caught, breakfast is the part that gets pushed out of the way. Other than fitting an extra hour into the day, what can you do? Why not get the kids to make their own breakfast?
For younger children, you'll need to prepare the ingredients for them and give them a bit of guidance–as they get older, they can prepare the ingredients themselves. Where possible, breakfast should include protein, fruit, and slow-release carbohydrate (such as whole grain toast or cereal), as well as a source of calcium (milk, cheese, or a soy substitute).
Breakfasts kids can fix themselves
The kinds of breakfasts that children can make depends on how old they are, but even the very youngest ones can get involved with breakfasts as simple as cold cereal (preferably an unsweetened one) and a glass of fruit juice or milk. They can top their cereals with a variety of different things–plain or fruit yogurt, chopped fresh fruit (prepared the night before and put in the fridge), dried fruit, nuts, seeds, and even chocolate sprinkles for a very special treat.
Kids who are a bit older can make toast using ready-sliced bread or rolls warmed in the microwave and top them with cream cheese, peanut butter, mashed banana, or fruit spreads. They could even make themselves a banana crunch breakfast smoothie (but first make sure that they know how to firmly seal the lid of the blender).
Once children are old enough to use a sharp knife and the stove safely they can slice their own bread or other baked goods, chop fruit to use as a topping for open-face sandwiches or cereal, boil or scramble eggs, and work their way up to making breakfast burritos.
Lunch also is an important meal for children to keep them going through the afternoon without an energy slump. Many schools provide good and healthy school meals, but some children prefer taking their own. Making a brown bag lunch can just add to the morning pressure–but it's another thing that the kids can learn to do.
Younger children can make do-it-yourself sandwiches or salads if you get the ingredients ready for them. Have them take a prepared salad or use sliced bread, rolls, soft tortillas, or a pita and top it with sliced or chopped meat, cheese, or easy to spread fillings like hummus, cream cheese, chopped egg, or tuna and sweet corn mixed with mayonnaise.
As children get older, they can learn how to handle knives safely and chop up raw vegetables for a salad or to dip in hummus or salsa (homemade or ready-made), or slice cheese to go in bread rolls with slices of ham and a salad. For a change from sandwiches, the oldest kids can cook things for their lunch – these meals will need to be made the night before, but that also will take the pressure off in the morning. Meals could include homemade soups for winter days that can be heated up in the morning and put in a Thermos, or cold foods for summer days such as frittata, and salads like potato salad, couscous or pasta salad. These can be kept chilled until lunchtime with an ice pack, or a frozen juice carton.
Once the kids are used to making their own breakfast and lunch, encourage them into the kitchen in the evening. Cooking in the evening is likely to be a bit more relaxed than the mad rush in the morning and can be a fun way to spend time together. The kids also may learn about menu planning and budgeting, gaining cooking skills that will last them a lifetime and, perhaps, develop into a hobby or even a glittering career.