Elias spends a lot of time with me in the kitchen. Even as a baby he loves peering into the skillet and watching me stir an array of colorful veggies. I’m hoping his early exposure to the preparation of fresh whole foods will instill in him some lifelong healthy habits. Exposing kids to where their food comes from and how it’s prepared helps them to build a positive relationship with food. I already know that as he gets older I’ll be fighting an uphill battle when it comes to helping him choose healthy whole foods over sweet and salty processed crap. It’s because of this that I’m very deliberately trying to make cooking and meal time fun and enticing from the get go.
Of course, cooking takes a lot longer this way! I do a lot of carting him around while I cook one-handed and I also spend a lot of time on the floor at his level, chopping veggies while I talk to him about the colors and shapes and nutritive value of a particular food on the cutting board.
Last night I threw together a stir fry and listed out to him each thing as it went into the pan. “This is sesame seed oil. This is garlic. Here’s a little onion, and now some carrots, celery, and bok choy.” Of course he’s too young now, but it won’t be long before he can take a more active role at meal time. Listed below are some of the ways your kids can get involved in meal time too:
Infants- 2 year olds will mostly be observing or grabbing for anything and everything you’re trying to prepare! Talk to them about the things you’re doing and let them learn about textures by allowing them to grab and hold onto things that are safe. Elias loves cucumbers and leaf lettuce this week.
2-3 year olds can rinse vegetables with your help and tear lettuce leaves for salads. At this age continue to talk to them about the colors and shapes of the foods you’re preparing to make meal time more interesting for everyone.
3-4 year olds will love mixing dry ingredients that you’ve measured out. Try using cookbooks with lots of vibrant pictures and talk about the photos of food as you go.
4-5 year olds will enjoy cracking eggs open and picking out the shell bits that may end up in the bowl as well! They can open packages of nuts, seeds, and dried fruit and add them to the dishes you’re preparing.
6-10 year olds will enjoy measuring out ingredients and filling the measuring cups themselves. They’ll also want to mix ingredients together. The older kids in this group can practice reading and math skills by preparing an easy and healthy meal from a recipe.