The past three months have proven to be more difficult than anticipated, so I have been working on ways to get more done, including making healthier dinners. And while the following solution certainly doesn’t save time, it does combine two activities into one; keeping your toddler actively engaged and getting food on the table.
Research shows that kids are more likely to eat food that they helped prepare, so kitchen activities are a great foray into early childhood nutrition. Even if they only take one bite of the food they prepared, they are one step closer to liking it. It could take up to 15 times of trying a food to actually like it, and many kids won’t continue to just agreeably put food into their mouth they don’t like, so preparing food is one way to get them to take their 7th or 8th try.
Here are some ways we get our two-year old helping out in the kitchen:
* Placing fix-ins into sandwiches and watching them melt in the sandwich maker or toaster oven. The sandwiches won't be neat, but they will be yummy.
* Washing vegetables. This is especially great if you have a spray handle- it could easily entertain your child for 10-15 minutes while you prepare something that needs to cook longer than the vegetables anyway. It’s terrible for water conservation but it works! It took some time to convince him not to spray himself or anything else, but now I think he gets it.
* Pretending to cook. While we don't have a pretend kitchen (yet), we do have this old-school fisher price stove. Additionally, our son has not yet found the start button on our microwave so he is enjoying placing random things inside and pushing various buttons. While doing this, he gleefully exclaims "Making Daddy Mommy," which obviously means that he is making us food to eat. The joy with which he exclaims it must mean that he views making food for someone as an act of love or care.
*Stirring the batter to whatever you are making…it could even be plain flour that you keep in a covered bowl for this very purpose! (Shhh...)
* Pouring ingredients into a bowl.
A few things common-sense things that I have learned from my recent readings in Waldorf education philosophy:
* Kids like to feel able, so it might help to have a small table or high step-stool/chair so they can get right into the action.
* Kids love to imitate household activities, hence the many mini-sized vacuums and brooms on the market. So having them "help" in the kitchen is actually fun for them. For the same reason, it might be a good idea to have some extra measuring spoon, cups, or bowls around so you are not fighting over the same one.
*Lavishly praise them for helping you make breakfast/lunch/dinner. You can even continue to talk about it during and after mealtime or mention it to grandma and grandpa.
* If having your kids help you in the kitchen will only make you more stressed instead of less, or if you would simply rather cook alone, consider a pretend kitchen.
* Give your child some options. For example: "Should we use cheddar cheese or mozzarella cheese?" "Should we cut the potatoes this way or that way?" The results make not be what you anticipated but they we will less fidgety if you keep them involved along the way.
I hope you find these tips helpful!
Beyond the Table is a new series on this blog that will showcase the many ways in which kids of all ages can hang out and help out in the kitchen. Going Beyond Prenatals is not just about eating healthy during pregnancy, but about going beyond pregnancy to think about pediatric nutrition as well. Creating positive kitchen interactions beyond the table encourages healthy eating and good memories. You benefit too, by always having an activity on hand! To read more, click here.