Getting Dirty With the Kids In the Kitchen

Fortunately, kids notice where we put our time, resources and attention, which will happily work to the advantage of those who live a traditional, real food lifestyle. A quote once said, “Our children are watching us live, and what we are shouts louder than anything we say.” With this being said, we need to make food come alive for our kids and focus on passing down healthy eating to our kids. This piece will touch on different ideas to inspire, no matter what age, to desire to get down and dirty in the kitchen and, maybe even, encourage an interest in better nourishing themselves.

Think of your kitchen as a play area and classroom, all in one. Here your children can learn lessons, both academic and character building. The best part of cooking together is spending time laughing, enjoying each other and creating memories. The second best is fostering a love of good food and an understanding of how to truly properly nourish our bodies.

There is no better time than when you’re wrist deep in food to discuss the bounty of nutrition is holds. Keep little references close by to make it easier to recall so you can quickly explain why a particular food is good for you. You may want to try explaining your point in a more relatable way. Let’s say little Billy wants to be tall like Lebron James or Sally want soft and shiny hair. Tell them how they can do that with the help of nutrition. For example, “the sandiness mixed into the salmon cakes are packed with protein to help build muscle, and B12 to keep your nervous system firing strong so you can grow, grow, grow.” Or “this yummy trail mix is loaded with almonds and sunflower seeds that have a good amount of vitamin E and protein which make your hair shiny and strong!”  Other lessons found in the kitchen include:

  • Confidence –building by seeing and tasting a job well done.
  • Reading and following recipes works on math (measurements and fractions) and science skills for elementary school-aged kids.
  • Enhancing the fine motor skills in preschool-aged kids with stirring, pouring, measuring, pounding, rolling, etc.
  • Strengthening vocabulary skills by using the proper names for kitchen gadgets and cooking techniques.
  • Making cultural dishes from around the world opens their eyes to geography and languages.
  • Learning to clean up!!! No kitchen job is complete without working on one’s cleaning skills and learning to leave a kitchen cleaner than you found it is a lesson that will build responsibility and take you children far.
  • Developing skills to take on to life outside the home. This may even contribute to the family by cooking full or partial meals.

Children become invested in a meal when they are involved in any and all aspects of its creation, starting with where the food originated. Research confirms what so many home gardeners already know: being out in the sun, growing your own food elicits a deep satisfaction and desire to eat fresh, colorful produce. Spending as little as 30 minutes tending a garden will encourage children to taste more vegetables.

Another way to connect to the source of your food is to visit farmers’ markets and become friendly with the local chemical-free farmers by asking questions-lots of questions! Finally, make grocery shopping a family experience. Let the kids peer into the produce section.  Just as with helping in the kitchen, adding children to the mix may lengthen your shopping experience and make for a tiny bit more work, but remember to look at the bigger picture: we are building their food philosophy that will serve them for the rest of their lives.

Each child is unique and some personalities thrive on ownership more than others, but everyone likes to feel accomplished. While kids are young, consider giving them tasks involving meal preparation or mealtime in some way. Here are some quick ideas to get you started:

  • Set the table.
  • Grease pans.
  • Take “orders” who wants avocado on their salad or who doesn’t want tomato in their side dish.
  • Stir batter.
  • Knead dough.
  • Shake bag full of ingredients to mix.
  • Clean table and put away dishes.
  • Wash vegetables.

First and foremost, mealtimes need to be pleasant, relaxing and unhurried. Talk to your family about positive things, ask questions, or even tell a joke. Below are a few ways to add that extra little zing to mealtime. Try celebrating unusual or family-made holidays.

  • Plan a theme night.
  • Dr. Seuss’s birthday, March 2. Read green eggs and ham and make “green” scrambled eggs by blending in a little steamed spinach or a dash of spirulina (a green-blue algae).
  • Restaurant night: create the ambiance of a nice restaurant with candles, soft music and tablecloths. Give each other a role to play, such as waiter, hostess, chef, or guest.
  • Alphabet food night: pick a letter of the alphabet and serve foods that start with that letter. For example, serve foods that begin with the letter B, such as beef patties with bacon, broccoli and banana ice cream. How about the letter F for fish, fajitas, home fries and fruit salad.

Make weekly meal planning a family event: Giving kids a chance to vote for meals throughout the week send a message of cooperation. Let them pore over your stash of cookbooks, check out some cookbooks designed for kids or watch a cooking show on TV together for ideas. Just be prepared to make real food, traditional adjustments and substitutions.

Now you are prepared to create your own recipe for getting dirty in the kitchen with your kids. First, start with a good base of personal excitement and investment in good food and nourishment. Then, sprinkle in some well-planned activities to enhance learning and bake it daily for a lifelong love of good, real wholesome food. Happy cooking!!

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