One of the best gifts you can give your child is the gift of independence. Allowing your child to help in the kitchen will help foster an appreciation for meal and snack preparation. Your child is more likely to try new foods if he/she helps to prepare them.
The time you spend together in the kitchen also will strengthen your relationship and allow you time to catch up on one another’s lives. At the end, it is rewarding to eat what you have prepared together. If your child enjoys cooking and is capable, you can look forward to having him/her prepare meals and snacks each week.
Following are some tasks your child can do to help you with meal preparation. Remember to keep tasks age appropriate and at your child’s pace. Some of the suggestions below are for more advanced-age children and may need adapted, depending on your child’s age. Always remind your child that hand washing is the first thing that he/she should do before preparing food.
- Wash, peel and slice fruits and vegetables
- Set the table for the family - include napkin folding, pouring water and creating and placing name cards
- Measure ingredients, dump ingredients into bowl and mix ingredients together
- Place dishes in sink and wash
- Spread butter, jam or cream cheese
- Wipe off the table after the meal
- Put linens into the laundry, fold or roll clean laundry and put it away
- Place leftover foods into storage containers
- Decorate, frost or arrange desserts and treats
- Hull peas
- Snap asparagus or beans
- Shuck corn
- Grate cheese
- Squeeze garlic
- Help serve foods with use of tongs or spoons
- Get items from the refrigerator (salad dressing, mustard, ketchup, etc.) and place them on the table
Though in the beginning it may take extra preparation, clean up and effort on your part, eventually your child will become less dependent on your help. Children love to roll up their sleeves and play at the sink or mix in a pot. Allowing them to direct the activity will inspire them and caregivers can challenge kids with new tasks as they develop, too. As your child’s confidence and skills grow, a caregiver can take on a
less hands-on role.
Following are some tips to help your child feel successful:
- Give your child two or three choices for a meal and let him/her decide what to serve
- Put liquids and beverages into a small pitcher that is easy to manage and have your child pour (milk into cereal, drinks into cups or ingredients into a mixing bowl)
- Store items in a drawer or shelf that your child can reach without help, so he/she can easily set the table, get a cup if he/she is thirsty or find a spoon for a yogurt
- Have a shelf in the refrigerator that is eye level to your child that holds foods your child can eat or foods you will ask him/her to help you prepare
- Use a step stool or table that is child-sized, so your child can work and reach items easily to help reduce spills and accidents; assign a workstation or area just for your child
The best thing a caregiver can do to ensure the success of children in the kitchen is to foster a welcoming atmosphere. Remember to move at the child’s pace, make it fun, play music, laugh, ask the child for his/her opinion and thoughts and eat with the kids.