I’m a cookbook author, food blogger, and a mother of two. I have a 11-year-old daughter and a six-year-old son. Both love food and love to help me in the kitchen. As a parent I wanted to be sure to expose my children to healthy food and I would pray that they would not become picky eaters. My husband and I agreed that we were not going to be short-order cooks and they would have to eat the same meals that my husband and I ate. Our family motto at the dinner table has always been, “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.” Thankfully it all worked out and both kids love all types of food. They love veggies and they even like sushi, but in the beginning it wasn’t always hunky-dory.
I remember when my daughter was about 5 years old and we went to a friend’s house for dinner and my friend made a delicious salmon. At that time I rarely made fish, so my daughter was not very excited about what she saw on her plate. She looked at it and said, “Ew, I don’t like fish!” I just wanted to crawl under the table and hide. I was so embarrassed. I excused myself from the table and had my daughter follow me. I took her to the bathroom and told her how rude that was. I put it in kid’s terms and said, “How would you like it if you worked really hard on a painting and you were so proud to show it off and someone said, “Ewwww, that’s ugly!” Wouldn’t that hurt your feelings?” I told her my friend worked really hard on the meal and she just hurt her feelings. I said, “Even though you might not think you like it, you haven’t even tasted it, and it wasn’t very nice for you to say that.” I saw the light bulb turn on in her head, she understood. I asked her to go back to the table, apologize to my friend, taste the fish, finish her dinner, and then compliment her on the meal. After dinner, my daughter was honestly ranting and raving about how good the meal was, especially the fish.
It was after that dinner I realized I needed to have my daughter involved in the kitchen. My son was not born yet, but I made sure to get my daughter to help me with the entire cooking process. Now as a mother of two I enjoy our time in the kitchen and relax at the dinner table knowing they are excited to eat the food we all made as a family.
Here are some basic ideas to get your children involved en la cocina.
I have an app on my iPhone called Cozi. I highly recommend this free app. Rather than a handwritten grocery list I type food items into my phone and know I will have the list wherever I go. Give your children your phone at the grocery store and have them read and check off the items as they place items into the grocery cart.
Have them help you look for the groceries. My children love to help pick and choose produce. They know how to pick the perfect ripe avocado and select the juiciest limes because of tips I’ve taught them. Educate them on fruits and vegetable and show them some fun unique seasonal produce like ugli fruit, blood oranges, or horned melons. They’ll get a kick out of the funny names.
Setting the table
We always make it a habit to eat as a family at the dinner table. Sure we sometimes eat dinner in front of the TV on special occasions like the Super Bowl, but for the most part dinner is at the table every night. My children always ask, “What’s my job?” They love to be assigned a job – it makes them feel important. My son usually sets the placemats, napkins, and forks, while my daughter fills glasses with water and places condiments on the table.
No matter what we have for dinner we always include some veggies. Whether it’s a salad or a relish tray we have an assortment of veggies on the table. My son loves the salad spinner so I usually let him rinse spinach or mixed greens while my daughter slices some of the veggies. You can usually find sliced bell peppers, sliced cucumbers, sliced avocados, cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, and olives on our plates or in our salad. My son is in charge of adding all the veggies into a salad bowl or arranging them onto a platter.
Baking is fun and kids love to help. My son loves to roll out dough and my daughter loves to measure ingredients and pour them in the mixer. The key is to take turns. If my daughter adds eggs, then my son adds flour. Now you are teaching them to bake and to take turns.
Give age-appropriate tasks
Even the youngest of children can help in the kitchen. Let toddlers help set the table, wash produce, stir and dump ingredients into the mixing bowl. Bigger kids can gather supplies, grate cheese, and measure ingredients. Tweens can chop and slice, and teens can pull pans and dishes from the oven. And everyone can help clean up and wash dishes.
Keep in mind
Always teach safety and remember to keep your children’s age in mind. My children beg me to place baking sheets into the oven, but I don’t think either of them is quite ready for that job.
In the kitchen, children can learn math skills, make choices about nutrition, learn manners and sharing, and of course, learn basic cooking techniques. Teach good hygiene by making sure your children pull back long hair and wash their hands properly before helping in the kitchen.
As a busy mother I know that sometimes you want to hurry up and get dinner on the table without any messy little helpers. Take a deep breath and know that these moments help boost self-esteem, offer a chance to connect and have real conversation with your children, and most of all you are making memories that will last a lifetime.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack is the writer at the award-winning blog, MuyBuenoCookbook.com. She also is a professional recipe developer and food writer, and is the co-author of Muy Bueno: Three Generations of Authentic Mexican Flavor. You can watch a trailer for the book here.
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