One of the best gifts you can give your child is to teach him or her that healthy food takes planning and preparation. It is my belief that children should know about food and should learn how to handle and to prepare it. I think of it as a life skill, no less important than any other… maybe more so as it will enable your child to take control of his health as he gets older.
Encouraging your child to help you in the kitchen will help foster an appreciation for healthy meals and the work that goes into the preparation. In addition, your child is more likely to try new foods when helping to prepare the meal.
The time you spend together in the kitchen will also strengthen your relationship and allow you to share as a family. As you are preparing a meal together, be sure to discuss the health benefits of certain foods. At the end, it is rewarding to eat what you have prepared together, and the knowledge retained stretches well beyond the kitchen sink.
Since cooking is a tactile activity that you can break down into dozens of tasks, each child can take on easy or challenging jobs. If you are new to teaching kids, show them the task first and then let them do it on their own. Here are a few tips for different age groups.
2- to 3-year-olds:
Most toddlers enjoy helping in the kitchen and learn new tasks quickly.
This age group (and older) can do the following tasks with minimal assistance: setting the table for the family, gathering utensils and ingredients, washing produce in the sink, picking fresh herb leaves off stems, lining muffin pans, and stirring or mashing.
4- to 7 year-olds:
In this age group, there is a lot of independence and ability to follow directions. Allow them to scoop out avocados, grease pans, wash the dishes, snap green beans, serve the food, or use measuring spoons.
As your child ages, and when you feel comfortable, teach him or her how to properly hold a knife, how to boil water, preheat the oven, etc. These are tasks that every girl and boy should learn at a young age in preparation for a healthy future.
Berry Good Smoothies
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries, blackberries, or strawberries
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons almond butter
1/2 cup of milk of choice
Allow children to select the fruit, wash it and gather other ingredients. Teach your kids how to safely use the blender. Have them place all ingredients in the blender, secure the lid and blend until smooth. These are great frozen as quick breakfast or snack options during the week.
English Muffin Pizza
English muffins of choice
Thinly sliced chicken
Any favorite vegetables
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Have your child put presliced English muffins face up on a cookie sheet. Spoon some pizza sauce on each half of the muffins. Top with sliced chicken, any vegetables and then the cheese.
Bake for about 5 minutes or until the cheese melts and bubbles slightly.
Julie Fortenberry, RD, LDN is a Wellness and Lifestyle Nutritionist at Touro Infirmary.