Do you remember the kitchen from your childhood? Do you remember how it was the heart and soul of the home? Not only did all the meals get created there and many meals get eaten there, but that is where major decisions were made, “heart to heart” conversations were had and where visitors might have been greeted.
Today, in my kitchen, it isn’t much different. The same important things are happening there. The kitchen is also where homework gets done, art projects get praised, and blogs get written. And very importantly, it is where lifelong lessons about food and nutrition are taught and learned.
As parents, raising healthy kids is a top priority for all of us. We don’t want it to be a temporary thing either. My personal mission is to raise lifelong healthy eaters. I try to move beyond the idea of “eat what is on your plate because I said so” and try to develop a basic, kid-friendly understanding of the importance of healthy eating. I believe that the more we talk about nutrients, the importance of “eating the rainbow,” why real food is more beneficial for our bodies and minds than processed food, as well as other things, the more likely my kids become flourishing, healthy kids now and flourishing, healthy adults in the future.
One of the best places to help healthy kids thrive in the way I am describing is in the kitchen. Bring them right into the heart and soul of the house! Let them watch, let them observe, let them question.
And then let them cook.
Kids of all ages can be hands-on with food prep to some degree. It just takes a little planning, maybe a little preparation before you invite them in to join you, but it can be totally manageable. This is a rich learning experience for them, and we should try to do this as often as we can.
Besides… it is FUN! If you are doing it right, you will share lots of laughs, good conversation and great quality time together. I am going to help you do that.
Before you jump up and call everyone into the kitchen, I want to share some things you should think about FIRST.
Let’s get those kids in the kitchen!
- Set Up Beforehand
You don’t have to do much necessarily, but taking a few minutes to set up a few things means that you can focus on the kids and the food more instead of details that can be taken care of beforehand.
How much of this you do depends on the ages of your children and their familiarity with the kitchen. With younger children, you may take out all the ingredients and tools, have everything already measured and ready to be poured into a bowl for mixing. With older kids or kids more familiar in the kitchen, they may take out the ingredients as you read them or they read them off, they may do their measuring, and so on.
No matter how much or how little you do, there is always something to do beforehand. Some additional things may include:
• Taking out extra dish- or paper towels in case of spills.
• Clearing off the cooking area, including the sink and oven if necessary.
• Deciding on a recipe.
• Setting out all the kitchen tools required.
• Taking ingredients out of the pantry and refrigerator.
- Create workstations and set up some rules
The last thing we want is kids running into the kitchen, pushing for a first chance to use the peeler and having a screaming match break out. When my kids come into the kitchen, everyone has an assigned spot and job, to begin with. We may rotate. We may not. But it is very clear as to who is going where right from the beginning.
Rules are important, too. The kitchen can be a dangerous place without rules. So we establish some right from the beginning, then change or add to the list as need arises.
Some rules you might include are:
• Wash your hands before and after cooking.
• Tie your hair back.
• Use your apron.
• Never touch the stove, it might be on.
• Ask before adding an ingredient.
• Only use the stove or a knife when Momma is with you.
Use rules that make sense for your kids and kitchen.
- Relax and have FUN
If you can accept that messes will be made, shells might make it into the dish and an ingredient might be accidentally left out, then you have the right frame of mind to relax and enjoy the experience with your kids. The most important thing is not that the final product turns out perfect. The much more important thing is that kids have a rich, hands-on experience in the kitchen with YOU. What they learn will stay with them for a long time. They are more likely to connect healthy food and healthy eating with warm, positive feelings by the opportunities you give them to be hands-on in the kitchen. So relax, smile, laugh off the “oopsie’s” and “uh oh’s” and have FUN!