Cooking is one of those chores parents often forget when they think about getting kids involved in helping out around the house. They ask them to take out the garbage, set the table, load the dishwasher and even help put away groceries. All jobs that need doing, but not much fun and certainly not creative.
Preparing tasty and nutritious meals is a skill the kids will need when they are ready to head off on their own. The earlier they start, the better they will do.
But, let’s face it. Having a child in the kitchen does not speed the process.
And, that’s where we grandparents come in. We have the time. We are not looking to quickly and efficiently put a meal on the table. We are keen to spend time with our grandchildren. And if we are also teaching them a life skill, it’s a bonus.
To start, create a kid-friendly work area. It might be easier for them to work at the kitchen table than at the counter. If they are working at the counter, make sure they have a sturdy chair or stool to stand on. My son preferred to sit on the counter!
Then teach them the fundamentals. They need to learn how to measure, how to mix wet and dry and how to sauté.
Even toddlers can get involved. Little ones can stir dry ingredients, tear lettuce and fetch things. Give them jobs that are safe and short-term. For example, you can send a child across the room to get a can of soup from a lower cupboard. He does the task and he’s finished – good job! If he is still keen, he can do another job, and so on, for as long as he’s willing. When we give toddlers jobs that are simple and take only a few minutes, we can expect they will finish the task, but aren’t asking for a commitment that a young child can’t yet make.
Preschoolers can have a say in the menu. Start by offering choices. Do you want chicken or pork chops tonight? We can barbeque the chops or cook them in the oven, which would you prefer? They will want to know the differences between cooking them each way and you can take the opportunity to teach them about different foods and different preparation methods.
Kids love to make cookies. They can form the dough, apply sprinkles and other decorations, use cookie cutters, and their creative treasures smile up at everyone when they are served after dinner or at a “tea party.”
As they get older and more experienced, you can let them plan and prepare meals. At first, you will work together in both planning and preparation but, before you know it, your child will be able to put a simple meal on the table. The parents will be pleased and your little chef will be so proud of himself.
Give them a crash course in nutrition. Let them know they need to plan meals that include foods from a variety of food groups. I remember telling our kids that a salad had to have more than just carrots. They loved carrots.
Make sure to teach them any favourite family dishes. Part of our grandparenting role, which is to hand down family stories, includes our special recipes. And while you’re teaching the kids how to prepare the food, you can also talk about celebratory meals over the years.
It’s also fun to teach each of your children how to prepare a particular dish that is a family favourite. That child becomes the expert and every time they are going to serve it, she is called to do the job.
There are good cookbooks available for kids. Once they’re old enough to read, go through them and choose ones appropriate for their age and that fit with how the family likes to eat.
Helping in the kitchen has many benefits. It’s a great activity for a child and his grandparent. The child is spending time with you. You can spend as much time as you both wish mucking around with food and preparing a dish.
At the same time, you are teaching your grandchild about nutrition, making choices and planning. And, their self-esteem is getting a healthy boost. If we sit down to a meal that was prepared by 10-year-old Melissa, she is going to feel terrific about herself. If we have a cake for dessert and three-year-old Juan stirred the ingredients, he will know that he had an important role to play in providing this cake everyone is enjoying.
Make cooking one of the activities your grandchildren will look forward to when you have a visit. You will have fun in the kitchen and your grandchild’s parents will be thrilled with this new skill.
JANUARY 2015 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE
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