As a nanny or babysitter, it's often your job to prepare meals for the children you're minding. As a parent, this is an everyday occurrence as well, and one you should strive to get your children more involved in from the grocery store to the dinner table.
Start with the trip to the grocery store! If you want to involve kids in the kitchen, you need to start with the food before it even gets there. Involve the children in making a grocery list and have them accompany you to the store for the shopping trip. Show them how to choose fresh vegetables and fruit, order meat, and cheese from the deli counter, how to read expiry dates and how to tell which loaf of bread is the freshest.
While you're in the store, make sure to stop and talk about the different foods around the store. If you pass items that the children show interest in specific food items, bring them home so they can try them. This will keep their minds open to trying new things down the road. But, make sure to let them know that it's okay if they don't like it, as long as they try!
For young children, it's difficult to find things for them to help with. Chopping, cutting and anything involving heat would be too dangerous. Try listing the ingredients for them and having them lay them out on the counter. Having them help measure or mix the ingredients together in a mixing bowl is also a good way to keep them involved while ensuring their safety. The most important thing is to make sure they know what they're doing is important. Make sure to emphasize that every step is important to the final product – no matter how small.
As children get older, you can involve them more heavily in the kitchen. Under supervision, you can show them how to cut vegetables, preheat the oven and even use the stovetop. But, be sure to start with simple things like frying an egg, or making grilled cheese or pancakes.
Setting the table
Part of working in the kitchen includes tasks like setting the table. There are lots of printable sheets available online that outline how to properly set the table. Don't forget to teach them which serving utensils are appropriate for different dishes. These could include:
Meat fork and carver
Remember to also talk about the items needed on the table that are used by everyone like salt and pepper, butter, salad dressings, water pitcher, etc.
Make meal time a day-long affair! Try a fun craft idea for earlier in the day like having the kids make their own placemats. Choose a design online, or have them make their own and laminate them afterwards to make for easy cleanup at the table. Try different shapes and sizes and don't forget to decorate with glitter, stickers and more. For younger children, try tracing out where each item goes so they can set the table more easily.
Sanitization and cleaning up
Remember to have everyone wash their hands before, during and after cooking. Handwashing is a very important factor in stopping the spread of bacteria. Be sure to lead by example and wash your own hands frequently!
Something children of all ages can take part in is cleaning up after you're done in the kitchen. If you're working with raw meat or eggs be sure to explain the importance of keeping the working areas clean and sanitized both during and after cooking.
Work in doing the dishes after dinner. This can be both fun and efficient. Make it a team effort by offering to wash the dishes if they dry them or visa-versa. Once the dishes are dry, test their knowledge about putting them back where they belong.
It's also great to teach kids about the effects cleaning products can have on their health. Chemicals and toxins are abundant in most household cleaning products, so opting for more natural products can help ensure the health and safety of everyone. It can also give you a great opportunity for a group project if you opt to make your own natural cleaning products.
How do you get them interested?
One of the easiest ways to get kids interested in cooking is to let them pick the recipes! Allow them to choose (or vote on) a menu for the day and then assist you to make it. This could mean homemade pizza with garlic bread and Caesar salad for dinner with chocolate chip cookies for dessert. Or spaghetti and meatballs with homemade apple pie for later. The menu can be as complex or as simple as you make it.
Making a dish from start to finish also allows for several opportunities for the children to help. Whether it's reading directions, chopping and measuring ingredients or the coveted position of official taste-tester, there's room for everyone!
Teach them about nutrition
In addition to cooking, the kitchen is also a great place to start the conversation about nutrition. Check out Canada's Food Guide for daily recommended servings of the four main food groups: vegetables and fruit, grain products, milk and alternatives, and meat and alternatives. Depending on a person's age, different suggested servings are recommended.
Try making a game out of the food guide: grab 10 items from the fridge and have the kids sort them into the different food groups. Or, quiz them on how many servings they should be eating. Look at the menu you've created for the meal and help them figure out how many servings of each food groups are in it.
Involving kids in the kitchen can seem like a challenge, but it's actually quite simple and can be a lot of fun! So remember, make it about the fun and involve them from start to finish and you have nothing to worry about.
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