Father and son cooking peeling carrot
Written by Donna Whitham, public health dietitian

Tips to getting your child involved with preparing meals.

Cooking with your kids? I bet this is not the first thing that comes to mind when you need to get dinner on the table fast. But did you know that preparing meals together, at least some of the time, benefits both you and your child?

I’m not saying it’s always easy but Dietitians of Canada’s Nutrition Month Campaign – “Simply Cook and Enjoy” has inspired me to include “with your child” into the message. It is possible to make simple quick meals that you and your family can enjoy making and eating together.

Cook with your kids

  • Evidence suggests that children who are involved in meal preparation and enjoy meals with their families have healthier diets
  • Having your child prepare ingredients helps them connect with food and makes it more likely that they will try new foods
  • Preparing food builds other skills like math, organization and reading
  • Preparing and eating meals together builds family connections

Get them involved at any age

  • Toddlers will enjoy watching you prepare food. Talking to them about the food you are preparing will grow their interest and help their language development too!
  • Preschool aged children can be given small tasks such as beating eggs and stirring ingredients together. They can wash vegetables and tear lettuce. This is also a great opportunity for basic math and reading skills.
  • School aged children can help in planning the meal, writing a simple list and, shopping for the food and learn basic knife skills.

Simple meal planning and preparations

Plan meals ahead of time but don’t over think it. Here is a simple formula I use to plan my meals. Include an element from each of these food groups to provide a balanced meal:

  • Vegetables and/or fruit (frozen peas, canned tomatoes, cut-up peppers)
  • Grain (whole grain wrap, pizza crust, bread)
  • Protein (light canned tuna or canned salmon; canned chickpeas)
  • Dairy (milk or a plain yogurt)

Enjoy a sandwich for supper: fresh roasted turkey breast, avocado, tomato and lettuce - all on whole grain bread, tortillas or flatbread. Add a glass of milk and some raw veggies on the side and your meal is complete. Even better, let the kids put together their own sandwich. They may choose each item separately. That’s OK too.

Enjoy

  • Don’t put pressure on you or your child to do anything perfectly.
  • Take pleasure in the act of sitting and eating with your family. Turn off electronic devices, put away phones.
  • Savour the food you and your child have prepared. Don’t critique it.
  • Let your kids know that you enjoy preparing and eating food with them. Seeing your joy will create memories that will last a lifetime.

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