Kids in the kitchen

I’m not sure if everyone else is doing a lot of kitchen work with their kids during this isolation time, but we sure have been. In the first month it felt like we cooked or baked something each day (hence the shortage of flour everywhere). My girls, (my son is still a bit too young) have learned how to cook a few simple meals on the stove over the past two months which they absolutely love. We started simple and will continue to teach them basic and simple skills in the kitchen going forward. I hope their happiness to contribute to meal making continues in the next few years.
If you aren’t sure where to start with your kids in the kitchen, here are some pointers and ideas for cooking/baking with them.
Start them young with simple recipes: Playdough. This used to be one of our go to recipes. We made a new batch of playdough monthly. The kids helped by adding the ingredients, mixing and kneading the dough. Tip: when baking with children have the ingredients out and ready so that you don’t have to leave the workspace – if you’re gone for even 10 seconds things get spilled and added before they are supposed to.
Have simple but important rules for working in the kitchen together. 
1) Always wash hands before helping with food prep (in our house they have to wash their hands for the length of time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday”). 
2) Pay attention when using sharp tools or hot surfaces. 
3) Follow directions.
4) No silliness or horsing around.
Baking recipes that they can personalize: This is always a huge hit. Cookies, cupcakes, mini pizzas, putting together yogurt parfaits, these types of recipes are exciting for little ones because they can make it their own. With recipes like mini pizzas, allowing them to choose from all your options, think healthy, have chicken, pepperoni, peppers, broccoli, spinach, and/or olives, gives them the power to decide what goes on their pizza, however, you’ve already ensured that the options are healthy ones. Win/win.
Chopping
Some parents are worried about letting their children use knives, of course it can be a safety hazard. You know your child and you should decide when it’s time to allow them to attempt to use a sharp knife. When choosing a knife, try to pick one that is not dull and yet not too sharp. Dull knives can be frustrating to work with because they simply don’t cut. When you think they’re ready to listen to directions and follow safety rules, set them to work with a real knife. Kids are more apt to enjoy a meal they had a hand in preparing. In our house, my girls cut the peppers, beans, cucumbers and broccoli, we avoid things like carrots, tomatoes, potatoes because they are harder to cut, for our meals and I use that to try and get them to eat the veggies, “Oh you’re picking out the peppers? Remember how much time you spent cutting them up, can you try one?” Sometimes, it works.
Making lunches
We want lunches eaten when sent to school, there’s nothing worse than wasted food and hungry kids. Have your rules set out before making lunches, like one dairy, one fruit, two veggies etc., then let them go through the choices and select what they want on their lunches. Although at the start it may feel like it takes longer than doing it yourself, once they get the hang of it, it’ll become a time saver for sure. They will also be happy to pick the containers they use and get it ready. You can make this their nightly chore. I recommend night time lunches so that it’s not making you rush in the morning. Hopefully kids will be excited to participate in this chore, and it’s one less thing for you to do. If you are a parent of a child that will start school in the fall, practice opening lunch boxes, containers, thermoses during the summer so that they have some practice before school hits.
Weekly meal plans
This has been a lifesaver for us lately. I include our whole family, when possible, in making our weekly meal choices. Our new rule is that we try one new recipe per week, some weeks our meals may lean more towards one child’s preference. When that happens, I try to even it out the next week. I’ve noticed a lot more open mindedness when offering them new dishes with new ingredients, sometime they’re a win, other times they have to pick out the “hazel” (actually it was basil) and then they’ll eat dinner. All-in-all though, if they have some power in meal choices they are more apt to eat what you serve them. 
Baking means math
Recipes are all about math, discuss the measuring cups you need for the recipe, which two measuring cups can you use for ¾ cup, how much do you need if you’re doubling the recipe, or halving it? Teaching them the difference between a teaspoon and tablespoon is another great math discussion – how many teaspoons fill a tablespoon? You can also talk about time, how long does it take to cook, or cool, or set? All great math conversations. 
Anytime we work in the kitchen we have to remember the clean up, kids can help with this too. Have them wash or dry the dishes, put ingredients away, vacuum/sweep up any spills and wipe down countertops. 
Lastly, sometimes baking and cooking with kids can get messy, they may drop some flour, spill some milk and dump too many oats in the recipe. If this is something that bothers you, it may take time but try to take a deep breath and count to 10, because kids will be kids and messes will happen. Practice and patience do make all the difference. Work together to create a love for nutrition and cooking. It will go a long way in your child’s life, I promise.
Whatever you decide to make with your children, have fun doing it.

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