JUNIOR CHEFS: MOVING ON TO SQUARE TWO
Q: When should kids start helping out in the kitchen?
A: As soon as they are able!
Last week I posted 10 Simple Food Prep Activities That Even a Toddler Can Do—tasks like spreading butter or jam on toast, slicing apples, and scooping melon balls. This week’s food prep activities include tasks easy enough for toddlers, too, but also interesting for older kids who want to expand their kitchen skills.
The purpose remains the same: Getting kids into the kitchen at an early age, and especially carving out space in the kitchen designed just for them, gets them comfortable with food preparation and gives them a chance to learn about healthy foods and healthy eating through their natural instincts and curiosity.
Kids in the Kitchen: 10 Food Prep Activities
1. Make mini versions of whatever you’re having for dinner.
This works especially well for ground meat dishes and casseroles. If you’re making meatloaf, for example, kids can shape individual mini loaves on a cookie sheet. Similarly, they can form a ground meat mixture into mini-meatballs or tiny burgers to fit on “slider” buns. If you’re making a casserole, they can fill a small baking dish with the mix, add a crunchy topping, and bake their own mini-casserole. (Make sure to have kids help chop up a variety of veggies to add to the ground meat and pasta sauces.)
2. Make applesauce.
Set the inner pot of a crock pot on the table with apples, an apple slicer, and safe knives for kids to chop under supervision. Kids can toss in the apples and measure sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon and water into the pot as well. The wonderful aroma as the sauce cooks and thickens will fill your home!
3. Help make vegetable-noodle crockpot soup.
Precook noodles and steam carrots and celery just enough to make them easy for kids to cut with a plastic knife. Then they can spoon the pasta and veggies into a crockpot, help pour in the chicken stock, and stir everything together before you turn it on. The aroma wafting from a crockpot is great for whetting young appetites!
4. Make tuna-pasta salad.
Have a variety of fun-shaped pasta for kids to choose from. When you have it cooked, cooled, and drained, kids can break up broccoli florets to add to it, toss in cherry tomatoes, and add a can of tuna (in spring water). Have them juice a half a lemon for the dressing, pour it over the top and mix everything together. Hand mixing allowed—as long as they wash their hands first!
Have a variety of small berries and a handful of toothpicks at the ready for kids to make little fruit kabobs. As children add berries they will naturally count, notice color, texture, shape and smell…and hopefully taste, too! This is a great activity for hand-eye coordination, too.
6. Make trail mix.
Offer a variety of nuts, raisins, dried cranberries, coconut, and mini-chocolate chips or carob chips and let kids choose their favorites to make their own servings of trail mix. Kids can use spoons or small measuring cups or simply count out the ingredients, placing them in small sandwich bags to take along on walks or in the car.
7. Make a fruit rainbow.
Set out bowls of fruit in rainbow colors: red strawberries, raspberries or watermelon pieces; orange segments or chunks of cantaloupe; pineapple chunks or banana slices (with the skin): green grapes; blueberries; purple grapes or plums. Get out a platter for kids to arrange the fruit into a rainbow for a lunch or dinner centerpiece. At mealtime, they can “eat the rainbow” by making sure they take at least one piece of each color.
8. Make mini pizzas.
Kids can toast English muffin halves, spread them with pizza sauce, and top them with a variety of vegetables and cheeses they’ve already grated. They can also use mini cookie cutters to cut shapes from slices of veggies and cheese and place them artfully on the muffins. (Faces are fun!) A couple of minutes under the broiler and they’re done.
9. Make a chopped-veggie wrap.
A great alternative to a sandwich, chopped garden veggies—and meats and cheeses, too—are easy for kids to spoon onto a tortilla or wrap and fold into a neat, yummy package. You may need to demonstrate the folding technique first.
10. Make a breakfast smoothie.
Breakfast smoothies are a great excuse to always have plenty of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables in the house. Let kids choose their favorites and experiment with different combinations. Encourage adding celery or spinach to a fruit smoothie. Add yogurt or milk (I like almond milk) and ice if the produce is fresh. If you’re using frozen fruit, you don’t need ice. Smoothies are a great reminder that healthy foods can be delicious!
The bottom line is that kids are more likely to be interested in trying foods they’ve helped prepare. Have them help with a variety of healthy meal items and watch as pride of creation gets them eating foods you never thought they’d eat. Especially if you have a fussy eater, get him in the kitchen! It might take a while, but I can almost guarantee, the more he cooks, the less finicky he’ll be.
Here’s to kids in the kitchen—
Barbara Jean the Story Queen
Ideas adapted from notimeforflashcards.com, kids-cooking-activities.com, preschoolexpress.com, kidspot.com.au. Image sources via flickr.com under license by creativecommons.com: “How to Cook Everything,” Woodley Wonderworks; “Squashing Eggs,” Bill Honl; “It’s a Wrap,” U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.
First, a disclaimer: I’m not a doctor. I’m not a nutritionist. I’m not a chef. I’m not even a mom. What I know about healthy food and healthy eating I’ve learned by reading and doing, just like you.
What I am is a children’s book author. A Story Queen! My area of expertise is FUN. In the last dozen years, I’ve written a number of entertaining, award-winning picture books–about monsters, cats, Disney princesses–and veggies, of all things.
I’m big on imagination. Monsters Don’t Eat Broccoli encourages kids (the way my dad encouraged my siblings and me) to think of broccoli as crunchy, munchy, fun-to-eat trees. Once Upon a Parsnip is a fairytale rematch between Little Red Riding Hood (a vegetarian) and the Big Bad Wolf (NOT a vegetarian). Scary fun!
On the surface, neither of my veggie books is really about healthy eating–they’re just plain fun. But the fun is subversive: both books introduce and normalize the idea of eating healthy, fresh-from-the-garden vegetables. (Never underestimate the power of fun to get your kids to try something new!)
My goal in these pages is to find and share fun ways to introduce fresh fruits and vegetables to children and to normalize healthy foods and healthy eating in their experience. My means is to expose them–through you, their parents and caregivers–to food-friendly books, videos, downloadable and printable posters and coloring pages, hands-on activities and kid-friendly recipes. Anything that equates healthy food and FUN!
I’m here for you–to help you make healthy eating feel as natural to your children as breathing.
Because healthy food and healthy fun make healthy kids. And that’s something all of us can get behind.
Barbara Jean Hicks, a.k.a. “The Story Queen”
To purchase signed, personalized copies of my picture books, visit the “Books” page on my website. To contact me about my well regarded young author presentations for schools, or for other enquiries, send an email from the “Contact” page at barbarajeanhicks.com. I look forward to hearing from you!