This is a guest blog post written by Hydaway ambassador and supermom Sara Bauer. Follow her on Instagram at @sobauer.
It all started decades ago with Mom putting curlers in my hair fresh from a bath, giving me some crackers, carrots, and other small food items with which to play pretend in the same wooden kitchen as my siblings had over the years. It maybe even began a year or two before that with a wooden spoon and stainless steel stock pot drum looking up at her preparing meals day in and day out to nourish our family. In those early years, I mirrored my her stirring and rolling until she invited me to stand on a chair to be a part of “the real thing.” This is where my greatest memories with my mom took place; laughing, mixing, measuring, and taste testing a bit of dough or sampling the sauce. It’s no wonder why I love being in the kitchen and encourage my children to do the same.
Fast forward to thirty when I was pregnant with my first child. “Get ready to change your diet to hotdogs, chicken nuggets, and mac and cheese,” and conversations that ended in a scoughing, “Your kid is never going to eat that weird stuff you eat,” were uncomfortably frequent. “That weird stuff” I was eating was asparagus, brown rice, roasted tofu or chicken, fresh fruit, and a culturally-diverse selection of recipes. I was shocked. I was dumbfounded. I was at a point in my life that I took what my mom had taught me and continued to explore for new flavors, new recipes, and new opportunities. I was ready to prep pureed first foods and meals until my little one was ready for finger food. I hadn’t planned on ever making a meal separate for our child from what my husband and I were eating.
As it turns out, we have completed our family with a second little one and I still haven’t made a separate meal for our children. Haters be damned. What started as mashed avocado became pureed chicken, carrots, and spinach. My son and first born was known to eat handfuls of chopped and steamed purple potatoes, asparagus, and by the time he was in preschool got caught with pockets full of ground cherries and grape tomatoes that he managed to sneak past us from our small backyard garden. My daughter’s favorite vegetable is brussel sprouts, she loves pomegranates, and eats spicier food than most adults I know. The best part? They both have helped in the kitchen from first their little hands could mash and have continued to help both plan and prep meals as the years have gone by.
In the kitchen, we have so many opportunities to not only connect with the food we make, but with our family, our health, our history, and our future… to allow an opportunity for successes and for failures, but most importantly for growth. It is a hands-on learning opportunity to encourage healthy choices, organizational skills, and, quite honestly, a basic life-skill that many pass up in exchange for food of convenience. How great would it be if your elementary child reached into the fridge for hummus and carrots to prep a snack for themselves, to help you prep food on skewers, or serve dinner. What if your your preschooler helped you prep fresh herbs with child-safe scissors for that pot of spaghetti sauce, mash bananas for bread or helped grab ingredients from the fridge? In other words: Welcome to OUR kitchen.
So, how do you make this your reality too? Continue reading for some of my favorite tips & tricks for getting your kids involved in the kitchen, as well as a couple of our favorite recipes to make together!
Meal Plan as a Family
As our kids have developed more opinions, I actively involve the whole family in meal planning and choose recipes that have wiggle room for mistakes. Work with recipes that have a small number of ingredients and steps, but also having conversations during your meals to help progress your skills. Asking questions like “What do you like about this meal?” or “What would you change?” can open a world of opportunity and alternatives or enhancements to your family favorites. Warning: Expect sarcasm on your initial attempts (“It’d taste better if it were pizza”), but be diligent and willing for constructive criticism.
Instead of “Good” or “Bad” Food…
Teach healthier options when they present themselves in your kitchen and as you dine elsewhere together. Involve children in choosing which vegetables or proteins to serve at meals and how to encourage balance on our plates. Discuss why it is important to have a variety of food and what nutrients are available. If you are able, also teach your children where the food you choose comes from – farmers markets and CSA shares are great shopping options to meet the people who grow your food.
Make Space For Their Task
If you’re just starting to introduce your kids to the kitchen, start with simple tasks that won’t slow down your ability to multitask, like washing vegetables or stirring dry ingredients. These things are needed but can allow you to begin execution of your next step. As you progress, make a space for what they are working on to know their role is important versus stepping in for brief tasks and then stepping to the side. Protip: have cleaning supplies handy to help them quickly wipe up a spill (bonus life-skills).
Organization is Important
Help the process by reading through the recipe together, discuss step-by-step what needs to be completed, and make it easier for their participation by opening jars or cans and emptying into a bowl or container that is easier for them to handle. Even setting together items for different steps of a recipe that needs minimal parent assist can be game-changing.
Baking offers a simple solution to the question, “Where do we start?” Having the little ones simply pour ingredients you’ve already measured allows for simple, yet successful, tasks. Baking also offers a different of learning in food science. Our favorites? My own banana bread and cookie recipes, and cookie recipes that have been passed through generations.
Praise the Chef
They may be the best mushroom-washer or egg-cracker in the world or they may have just executed veggie & hummus roll-ups for dinner while you merely cut the peppers, but make sure they know whatever role they played was important in nourishing the family. If it is appropriate, have them present the platter. If not, they can announce what is for dinner, what steps were easy, and what the challenges presented themselves.
Keep Calm and Cook On
Don’t be afraid of a mess; clean up and move on. Remember, the more confidence they get, the less likely you’ll be making every meal. Bonus? Involving children or even them making the meal themselves will surely guarantee their eating at mealtime.
As you work together, dig into those favorite recipes from your childhood, gather those that your new family has grown to love, and prep a book of favorites to share with potential generations to come. Happy cooking!
Two favorites in our home featured in these photos:
Easy Chicken and Salsa Roll-ups
1lb chicken cooked and small cubed
8 oz softened cream cheese
¾ cup salsa
1 cup roasted corn (or thawed frozen corn)
Mix together ingredients, spoon and spread on tortillas or sandwich wraps, roll tightly, and refrigerate. Once cooled, slice in one-inch sections as an appetizer or larger as part of a meal.
For an age appropriate resource guide: