Kids in the Kitchen

When I was growing up, kids were expected to help with family chores. The larger the family, the more chores children were given.

I frequently could be found at my best friend’s home. Debbie was the eldest girl in a family with five children. Before she was allowed to play after school, her chores needed to be done. I often would help her, so we would have more time to play together.

Dinnertime meant kitchen chores. When I was 11 and Debbie 10, her baby sister was born. Debbie was required to help her mom out more, especially in the kitchen.

Angel sautés onions and red bell peppers.

Kids are very capable of prepping foods and even cooking. Although my mom didn’t teach me to cook, at Debbie’s home we were setting the table, peeling potatoes, making simple meals and, of course, washing and drying the dishes. (Dishwashers were not found in most homes…kids were the dishwashers!)

I always loved it when I was invited over for dinner, even though I knew I would be helping Debbie with her dinnertime chores. Debbie’s house was full of excitement and activity, whereas my home, with only three people, was pretty quiet. Her brothers, Billy and Jamie, enjoyed smacking us (hard I might add) on the arm as they walked by. Not having brothers of my own, this brotherly love (harassment) was an education. The entire family sat together for dinner, which was prepared from scratch, not “heated” from a box.

Today, parents are often rushed. Instead of relying on their kids for kitchen support, kids are being transported to and from various lessons and sports practices during the time meals should be prepared. Parents often resort to “take out.”

It’s no surprise really the US Department of Health and Human Services says eating dinner together proves to be an effective way to raise healthier children. It not only keeps the family tied together, but sets an example of healthy eating.

Better than just “eating together” is when kids are actively involved with the making of the shared meal. There is a sense of accomplishment and pride, especially for the picky eater, who needs multi-sensory experiences with various whole foods. Involving a picky eater with the preparation of a meal is the single most effective thing you can do to transform a picky eater into a healthy eater.

The first time or two, you will need to closely oversee the making of a recipe. Your kids need to know where you keep ingredients and utensils. Also, the proper way to use cooking utensils and how to measure ingredients needs to be taught. While cooking with your child, take the opportunity to explain about the goodness of whole foods. After being supervised a time or two, by age ten or so, most kids can complete a simple meal on their own.

Start out with something relatively easy. Kids can make grilled sandwiches, creamed tuna over toast, scrambled eggs and even pancakes made from scratch. Peeling potatoes for mashing or serving scalloped, making a salad and other side dishes are great opportunities for your child to learn how to cook.

Unless you are really organized, several children in the kitchen can be a hassle, perhaps even a hazard. Designate one day a week for each child to help or make the meal. That will avoid squabbling over who gets to do what. In addition, complements about the food will be directed to one special kid.

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