JUNIOR CHEFS: STARTING FROM SQUARE ONE
Q: When should kids start helping out in the kitchen? A: As soon as they are able!
Innovative educator Maria Montessori, who developed a unique philosophy of education that more than a century later still bears her name, believed that the teacher’s primary job was to provide opportunities for children to learn and flourish by way of their natural curiosity and intuition.
Parents who provide what Montessori called “practical life activities” for their children—the everyday activities of living—are acting as their kids’ first and best teachers. And what life skill is more practical than food preparation, an activity parents can expose their kids to every day?
Invite your kids into your kitchen. Who knows where it might lead?!
Having toddlers help with meal preparation is an especially good strategy with picky eaters. Food that children have helped prepare is more interesting and more appetizing than food that merely shows up on their plates. Meal prep also teaches kids the value of food, helps them develop fine motor skills, and gives them scheduled, focused time to talk with you, which increases language development—as well as emotional bonds. Now, that’s quality time!
First, make your kitchen safe and accessible to your toddler. Assign a low drawer to hold utensils that will be solely for his use. Have a special, easily reached place in the fridge for food and drink designated just for her. Provide a stool that gives him access to the kitchen counter. Hang an apron somewhere she can get it down herself. Teach him good food preparation hygiene by washing your hands and making sure he washes his as well.
Is having kids in the kitchen a messy proposition? Undoubtedly. But who hasn’t made a mess or two in the interests of learning?! Make sure your child knows it’s okay to make a mess, and you’re ready to go.
10 Simple Food Prep Activities That Even a Toddler Can Do
1. Spread butter or jam on a piece of toast.
Place the toast on a plate to help contain the mess. Place just a small amount of butter or jam in a small bowl and provide a small spreader or a butter knife your child can manage.
2. Help make a garden salad.
Parse out activities according to your child’s age and abilities: washing lettuce leaves and cherry tomatoes in a colander, peeling cucumbers, grating carrots, etc. Teach older children how to safely use a small, sharp knife to cut cukes and other veggies.
3. Slice apples.
Purchase an apple corer. Cut the apple crosswise in half, place it flat side down on a cutting board, and let your child push down on the corer, offering minimal assistance. Use small tongs to remove the apple slices from the corer.
4. Peel and slice a hard-boiled egg.
This is a great activity for concentration and for refining kids’ fine motor skills. After the eggs have cooled, crack the eggshells gently and peel a piece or two to start the process, then allow your child a turn. Once the egg is peeled, have your child cut the egg using an egg slicer. Use tongs to remove the egg from the slicer.
5. Peel a mandarin orange.
Have your child practice her fine motor skills and build hand strength with this activity that will also fill your kitchen with a heavenly smell! For very young children, make sure you bring home easy peeling fruit.
6. Juice an orange.
Cut an orange in half with a sharp knife. Demonstrate how to twist the orange in the juicer and have your child finish the job. Allow her to pour the juice into a pitcher.
7. Scoop out melon with a melon baller.
This is a messy activity—a great one for a hot day outside. It takes coordination to make balls, and just scooping a melon out is an accomplishment for toddlers! Most kids find this activity great fun.
8. Slice cheese.
Pre-cut several long rectangles of cheese. Provide plastic knives and invite your child to slice the larger pieces into bite-sized pieces to snack on. Plastic knives will go through most cheese easily and safely, and your child will feel a sense of independence and responsibility.
9. Break graham crackers.
Shapes and even the very basics of fractions come into play with this simple activity: two rectangles make a square, two squares make an even bigger rectangle, etc. Breaking graham crackers also takes concentration and basic training in dealing with frustration!
10. Get creative with cookie cutters.
Stock up on cookie cutters in fun shapes and have your child use them to cut hearts out of sliced bread for mini sandwiches, or watermelon into stars to transform wooden skewers into magic wands. (Yes, healthy food is magic!)
Tune in next week for ten more fun food activities to get your junior chefs comfortable in the kitchen. Maybe someday they’ll be cooking entire meals for you—
One can always dream!
Barbara Jean the Story Queen
Text sources: wikipedia.org, dailymontessori.com, notimeforflashcards.com, kids-cooking-activities.com. Image sources via flickr.com under license from creativecommons.com: “Helping Mother,” Tiffany Terry; “Apple Pie,” The CMN.
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!