How do you get your kids to help in the kitchen?



Kids enjoy helping in the kitchen and are often more willing to eat foods they help prepare. This is a good reason to involve children of all ages in the preparation of family meals and snacks. It can also be beneficial when trying to get children to eat nutritious foods.

Another benefit of children helping in the kitchen is that they can learn safe food handling techniques. Children of all ages can be taught that good cooks always wash their hands before cooking. They can also learn to wait until food is prepared before sampling it. This and other precautions will help prevent foodborne illnesses.

Remember that it is important to assign kitchen tasks appropriate for your child’s age. For example, pre-schoolers enjoy mixing, mashing and stirring food or setting the table while older children can practice measuring, following directions and using kitchen equipment safely.

The Dole Healthy Family Advisory Board suggests these tips for involving family members in food preparation.

· All Hands on Deck. Get everyone in the kitchen and make food preparation a family affair. Have the youngest member of the family assemble a salad after all the cutting has been done. Teenagers can prepare the meat and set the table while parents arrange side dishes.

· Make Your Own Night. Have each family member make exactly what he or she wants to eat. When all meals are prepared, family members can enjoy eating their meals together. After dinner, have each person clean up after him or herself. This eases the burden from one person and also gives parents the opportunity to set a good example of eating nutritiously. Parents may even require that all meals prepared include at least one vegetable.

· Everyone Takes a Turn. Older kids and teenagers can help with dinner preparation by taking one night a week to make their signature dish. Whether it's spaghetti, Caesar salad, hot dogs or grilled cheese sandwiches, let your designated chef take responsibility for dinner. Chances are high that you won’t get tired of it if you don’t have to make it.

For parents of children ages 2 to 5, the National Network for Child Care (www.nncc.org)

gives suggestions on how to involve younger family members in the kitchen.

· Two-year-olds are learning to use the large muscles in their arms. They will enjoy activities such as scrubbing vegetables and fruits, wiping tables, dipping vegetables and fruits, tearing lettuce and salad greens, breaking bread for stuffing and snapping fresh beans.

· Three-year-olds are learning to use their hands. Let them try activities such as pouring liquids into a batter, mixing muffin batter, shaking a milk drink, spreading peanut butter on firm bread or kneading bread dough.

· Four- and five-year-olds are learning to control smaller muscles in their fingers. Offer them experiences such as rolling bananas in cereal for a snack, juicing oranges, lemons and limes, mashing soft fruits and vegetables, measuring dry and liquid ingredients, grinding cooked meat for a meat spread and beating eggs with an eggbeater.

When teaching in the kitchen, remember that children have short attention spans. Give them quick, simple jobs and give instructions one at a time, repeating directions as often as needed. Also, expect spills and messes, and be sure to involve them in the cleanup. Always be around to supervise your child in the kitchen.

Involving a child in food preparation can create bonding experiences between the child and adults. With a little planning and preparation, your child will learn skills that will be helpful now and in the future.

Posted on 28 Jun 2004

Kathy Riggs
Family and Consumer Science and 4-H/Youth Agent, Iron County

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