Get off my leg! I’m trying to cook dinner!
Sound familiar? Cooking a healthy meal can sometimes seem like an impossible task when you have little ones literally fighting for your attention, but it can be done. Take it from this momma of a very energetic 2 1/2 year old boy, it is possible keep your kids happy and entertained while you cook.Heck, you can even let them help! It might be a little slower and a little messier, but they’ll have a blast. Here are a few creative ideas that will keep your kids happy, save your sanity and keep your whole family healthy.
Babies & Toddlers
This one can be a little tricky. Young babies aren’t really old enough to help out in the kitchen, but there are things you can do to ensure they are in a pleasant mood and sufficiently
distracted engaged so that you can buy a few minutes of kitchen productivity. Nap time is actually a great time to tackle meal planning, food prep or cooking. If your baby isn’t totally on board with that plan, just make sure he is well-rested, has a clean, fresh diaper and has recently been fed or nursed before you attempt to start cooking. You do not want to attempt any kitchen endeavors with a wet, hungry, sleep-deprived baby. Don’t even try it. For young babies, a bouncy chair or exersaucer plopped right down in the middle of the kitchen can be a lifesaver when it’s time to get to work in the kitchen. As long as you aren’t juggling knives or deep-frying chicken, you can even wear your little one in a baby carrier and talk to her about what you are doing. When my son, Avery, was young, I talked to him all day long about everything I was doing. That may be why he never stops talking now, but that’s another story.
For older toddlers, you can set them up with their very own play kitchen or just get out a few pots and pans and let them go to town! All kids love music, so why not throw a little kitchen dance party? Turn on some music or sing a silly son and dance around the kitchen to get your baby giggling while you cook. You’ll both have more fun.
Two to Five Year Olds
Even as young as two years old, kids can help out with basic kitchen tasks. Anything from stirring ingredients, pushing the button on the blender (Avery’s personal favorite), adding ingredients to a bowl or even “Certified Taste Tester” can be safe and appropriate for this age group. We built Avery a learning tower based on this tutorial so that he could reach the counter and cook with us, but you can also purchase pre-made towers or tall stools to help your child safely reach the counter. All kids are different, so use your best judgement when determining which tasks your child is ready for, but it really can be a lot of fun to cook together. Your child wants to be just like you and do everything that you are doing, so they will love to help out in any possible way.
Even if your child is not quite ready to help out, make sure you are at least talking them through what you are doing. The younger the better when it comes to learning about healthy foods and cooking. Avery really wants to drive the car, so we are sure to tell him that eating healthy, whole foods will help him grow big and strong so he can get his driver’s license someday. 🙂
At this age, you even have the opportunity to get your kids involved in shopping and meal planning, too. To help them make healthier choices, instead of asking, “What do you want to eat for dinner?”, ask, “Which vegetables should we have with dinner tonight?” You can also sere your meals “family style” so kids can choose which foods they want to eat. If all of the choices are healthy ones, you can feel good about letting them pile up their own plate.
Elementary School Age
This is when things really get fun! Once children are in elementary school they can handle a wide range of kitchen tasks. Again, use your best judgement, but they should be able to help out with measuring (math!) and even chopping ingredients. You can amp up the real food education a little more with elementary school-age children, too. A great example would be to play a grocery shopping game. Let your child help you find items on your list and then discuss the health benefits of the foods you find. This is a great way to teach them how to read ingredient and nutrition labels. You can also have them choose a new fruit or vegetable each week and then head home and search for fun and interesting ways to prepare it.
Cooking with Kids Can Be Done
It’s true! You’ve just got to use a little creativity and planning, but raising healthy kids is worth it, right?