I never thought this would be a controversial position in my online parenting group, but I firmly believe kids should be feeding themselves from the moment they’re physically able to do it. (Then again, everything is somehow controversial in my online parenting group, so I shouldn’t be surprised.)
Pushing aside all the arguments about self-reliance and training them to eventually be our personal butlers, kids are proud when they’re able to do grown-up things. Remember when you were a kid and got so excited about occasionally being treated like an adult? Like getting to sit at the grown-ups’ table or being asked to go to the store by yourself? It made me feel important and that my parents thought I was smart and respectable. I wish my kids would feel this way when it comes to picking up their room or cleaning the cat box, but I’ll take what I can get.
When they were very young, I’d make it simple by keeping a low cabinet full of healthy, premade snacks and a few bags of grapes and baby carrots in the fridge. Now my sons are in upper elementary school, and they’re ready to get a bit more serious about learning to cook. We’ll spend some time together prepping on the weekends, which gives us some quality time and allows them to show off their developing culinary skills in front of me.
Cut-up fruits and vegetables
There’s no firm age to say your kid is ready, but I believed that when my kids turned 7, they were ready to start using a knife with extremely close adult supervision. It’s best to have them start on soft items, such as watermelon and cucumbers, and as their skills improve, they can move on to firmer items like carrots. They’re now far more likely to reach for this stuff than to beg for junk, since the sooner they’ve finished eating all of it, the sooner they’ll get to touch knives again.
English muffin pizzas
Don’t pretend you just read that and didn’t suddenly get a craving for one of these. These were a staple of lots of our latchkey childhoods, and it’s high time they made a serious comeback. Spend a Sunday together assembling a bunch of these, freeze them on a cookie sheet until solid, and then put them into individual freezer baggies. All your kid needs to do is pop them into the toaster oven for a few minutes.
I have one son who could eat steak every day. Unfortunately I don’t have a steak-every-day budget. I do, however, have roast beef, shredded cheese and a fridge full of condiments. Just keep a box of soft tortillas or taco shells on hand.
I have one son who will eat nothing but cheese but who is not old enough to make grilled cheese on the stovetop just yet. He is old enough to fold and pinch dough, though, and loves knowing he made one of his favorite foods of all time by himself. We buy pizza dough from our local slice shop. I roll it out, and my son cuts out circles with the top of a pint glass. We fill them with a mixture of ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan and beaten egg. You can add extras such as spinach to encourage them to eat vegetables. Adding cheddar and broccoli to the mix is also fantastic. They can be frozen and reheated in the toaster oven or microwave.
Our microwave is a lifesaver — especially with a kid who can eat scrambled eggs three times a day. If they can’t beat eggs without making a mess, then buy a carton of the pre-scrambled kind. Have them microwave the eggs in 30-second increments, stirring in between, until the eggs are set.
Mac ‘n’ cheese waffles
These are super popular and a good medium for sneaking healthy foods into your kid’s diet. A few teaspoons of ground flaxseed camouflages very well in boxed mac ‘n’ cheese and also helps it keep its shape in a waffle maker (if you don’t have flaxseeds, you can substitute with a beaten egg). Mix well, drop heaping teaspoons onto a hot waffle maker, and let them cook till crispy. Make a huge batch in advance, freeze them, and your kid can pop them into the toaster after school.
Ham and biscuit sandwiches
For some reason, kids love things in miniature and go crazy over biscuits. Show them how to bake off a can of them on a Sunday, and keep them in an airtight container in the fridge. They can top them with thick-sliced ham — either ask for it thick at the deli counter, or cut up ham steaks yourself — and microwave for a minute.