For many parents, meal time can be a struggle. A busy work schedule, school pick-ups and after-school activities are often a recipe for hastily-made, high-stress dinners. Too often, these last-minute meals leave out two of the most important ingredients: learning and fun. This Mother's Day, let's give moms some well-earned time-off while enjoying a little quality time with the kids in the kitchen.
Involving children in meal preparation provides a wonderful opportunity for them to discover new foods and teaches them to become more self-reliant in the kitchen. Getting kids in the kitchen can also help with many important life skills, like reading (the recipes), enhancing math skills through measuring out ingredients or increasing/decreasing the number of servings in a recipe, and even basic science by learning about how ingredients like salt, baking powder and flour work together.
Cooking as a family is also a great opportunity to spend quality time together and research suggests that children who help prep and cook meals at home are more likely to select and consume more fruits and vegetables.
To help you get your kids involved in prep and planning for family meals, while providing them with basic food knowledge and kitchen skills, I've listed steps from start to finish that will ensure a spectacular Mother's Day meal.
Step 1: Select your recipe(s)
Brainstorm some of mom's favourite meals with your kids and write them down. If you're looking for something new and kid-friendly, check out this great Multi-Bran Blueberry Banana Bread for breakfast in bed or Penne with Peas, Goat's Cheese and Fresh Herbs for dinner.
Step 2: See what you already have
Write down all of the ingredients you'll need, as well as supplies. Then check out what you already have in your kitchen. Get the kids to do this part. It will help them become familiar with how to navigate the kitchen space and gain a greater understanding of food storage and ingredient recognition.
Step 3: Shop
Take your kids with you to the grocery store and have them find where the foods are located in the aisles and on the shelves. I can't tell you how many adults struggle to find items in their local supermarket. It's also a great opportunity to teach your kids about the many different parts of the world where our food comes from. Make it fun for the kids by having them bag the groceries and find products that you need that are on sale so they start learning about food budgeting.
Step 4: Practice safe food handling and hygiene
Have your kids wipe down all counters and wash their hands before doing any meal prep. Cultivating these types of habits from a young age will help prepare them for future kitchen skills and create healthy routines.
Step 5: Cook!
Now here comes the fun part...kids love chopping, measuring, pouring and stirring ingredients. Get them familiar with different aromas by having them smell spices and herbs before adding them to dishes. We often forget how much our olfactory sense plays a role in the outcome of a dish. If you have younger kids, you can use this handout to pick some age-appropriate activities for them to do in the kitchen.
Step 6: Presentation
While the food is cooking, have the kids help set the table. If you really want to kick it up for mom, get the kids to arrange some flowers in a vase to create an extra special atmosphere for her meal. If your kids are a little older, they can play around with how to present the food on the plate for mom.
Step 7: Clean up
Last but not least, let mom relax while the family cleans up. This will likely be the biggest gift of all -- to enjoy a home-cooked meal without lifting a finger. Since the kids helped with food prep and setting the table, they will have a good idea of where the leftovers are stored and where clean dishes go.
Mother's Day is the perfect time to create a little more family fun around food and mealtime. With a little attention and persistence, your little helpers can make every day in the kitchen feel special for mom.
Néma McGlynn is a registered dietitian with Loblaws. She is part of a network of more than 70 dietitians who provide free services like one-on-one consultations, assisted shopping, school tours and recipe ideas at locations across the country.
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