Most of the time, we are in such a rush to get dinner finished or make the brownies for the picnic that we tend to do it ourselves to help cut down on time. New studies have shown that children who are actively involved in preparing meals at home have a better understanding of food nutrition and overall tend to have healthier eating habits.
Here are a few ways to get the kids involved in meal preparation.
-Measure and Pour
Very young children can watch as you measure wet and dry ingredients, explaining the terms “cup,” “teaspoon,” and “tablespoon.” Once you level the dry ingredients, your child can pour them into a bowl. You can work on their counting skills by having them keep track of how many cups, teaspoons, etc. have been added to the bowl.
As children get a little older, around 4 or 5 years old, you can start letting them pour or scoop ingredients into measuring tools. Teach them how to level dry ingredients by using the straight edge of a knife or metal spatula, and how to check liquid measurements at eye-level.
School-age children can continue to measure and count on their own, but this is also a good time to introduce conversions such and measuring by weight.
-Stirring and Combining
Very young children can practice stirring batters and combining dry ingredients using a wooden spoon, a fork, or a spatula.
Preschoolers can start learning to use different techniques, including beating or whipping ingredients using a whisk or egg beater. When they stir ingredients together, teach them to scrape the sides to incorporate everything.
School-age children can begin using hand-held electric beaters and learning new techniques like folding when using airy ingredients.
Even the youngest children can help with preparing ingredients by fetching things from the refrigerator, assisting with the salad spinner when you clean greens, and rinsing fruits and vegetables.
Preschool kids can start tearing lettuce for the salad, scrubbing potatoes to clean them, and cutting soft foods (like olives and strawberries) with a butter knife or dull plastic knife. They can also begin learning how to crack an egg.
Make sure school-age children are aware of knife safety before letting them use the “grown-up” knives. It’s up to you to determine when your child is ready for these serious tools, but peeling vegetables and cutting ingredients are great jobs for older kids. You can also start teaching culinary skills like mincing, chopping, dicing, and julienning. Another great skill to teach at this time is how to separate an egg. Just make sure you have extras!
Small children can help with clean-up tasks by using a small brush or broom and handheld dustpan on the floor. They can wipe up spills on the counter using a towel, and put away clean flatware which is good practice for sorting and organizing.
4- to 5-year-olds can add to these cleaning skills by using spray bottles of nontoxic cleanser to spray the counter before wiping it clean. They can use brooms on the floor, and help with the dishwasher by filling the soap compartments and pushing the “start” button.
School-age children can begin washing dishes and loading the dishwasher. When the dishwasher is finished, they can put away things in the cabinets and drawers that they can reach.
For all ages, make sure to reinforce these skills and habits by making cleaning fun, praising kids for independence in the kitchen (even when they make a mess), and holding kids accountable.
-Setting and Serving
Young children can set out the silverware, put napkins in napkin rings, and carry their own bowls and cups to the table..
Preschoolers can set the table and pour drinks for the family and make place cards for holiday or event seating.
School-age children can help dish out entrees and side items in addition to setting the table. Teach them which serving utensils are appropriate for different kinds of foods, and then begin letting them choose which one to use for each dish.