Q: I know that I should let my 3-year-old help out in the kitchen, but I’m always in a hurry to get the meal on the table. Any ideas?
A: First of all, congratulations on “getting that meal on the table.” Family meals are so important — it’s a time to eat together, talk together and enjoy not only food but also the support and socialization of sitting down together and sharing a meal. Family meals tell much about the quality of family relationships. Research shows that children and teens who share meals with their parents have improved food habits. They tend to eat more fruits, vegetables and dairy foods, and less fried food and soft drinks at meals eaten with their families.
The benefits don’t stop with children. How often a family eats dinner together is a strong indicator of whether a teen is prone to smoke, drink alcohol or use drugs, or is likely to perform well in school. Family meals may also help protect adolescents from eating disorders.
So, today, family meals are more important than ever — and worth the effort. The first thing to do is turn off the TV (and other electronic devices) and fix the meal together — even if it does take a little longer to get it on the table. We know that cooking with your children is a good way to help them develop healthy eating habits, as well as strengthening that bond between you and your children. Most children enjoy helping in the kitchen. While they help you prepare a meal, you can talk to them about healthy foods. Children like to eat the food they make. This is also a good way to get them to try new healthy foods.
You can show your children how to help you prepare meals. Here are ways that children of different ages can help in the kitchen:
• Wipe tabletops.
• Scrub and rinse fruits and vegetables.
• Tear leafy greens.
• Break and snap vegetables.
• Bring ingredients from one place to another.
• Wrap potatoes in foil for baking.
• Put dough in pans.
• Use a cookie cutter to cut out shapes in dough, bread slices, or sliced cheese.
• Mix ingredients with hands or a spoon in a container twice the size of the amount of the mixture.
• Pour liquids from small pitchers or plastic liquid measuring cups.
• Shake liquids in a covered container.
• Apply soft spreads.
• Put things in the trash.
l Peel oranges, hard-boiled eggs and corn.
l Roll and flatten food.
l Mash bananas or cooked beans with a fork.
l Cut parsley and green onions with kid-safe scissors.
l Set the table.
Five- to 6-year-olds can:
• Measure ingredients.
• Cut soft foods. Teach knife safety — always supervise. Use a cutting board, a knife that fits their hands, and a plastic serrated knife for soft foods. Show how to hold a knife and cut safely.
• Use an egg beater.
• Grate food.
One of the most important things to remember when children are helping in the kitchen is to LOOSEN UP! It’s difficult for kids to be neat in the kitchen. Be patient with spills and mistakes. When things don’t go perfectly — chill out! Just offer some guidance and let them try again. Little by little, they will gain skills and feel great once they’ve mastered them. And — don’t forget to compliment you assistant chefs on a job well done. Offer them the first taste on whatever you’ve cooked together. Finally, ask them what you should make together next time.
— Susan Krumm is an Extension agent in family and consumer sciences with K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County, 2110 Harper St. She can be reached at 843-7058.