Why Your Kids Should Help Prepare Meals
Every weekend when I prepare my list for the grocery store I encourage my kids pull out the cookbooks, thumb through them, and tell me if they see anything interesting. I know that you can search for recipes online, but flipping through an actual book is an entirely different experience. It enables you to see recipes and foods that you would never search for left to our own devices.
I am positive that my children would pull up a search on a recipe website, type in chocolate and leave it at that.
Flipping though a cookbook, especially one with color photos, excites them to foods they would never have tried. And since it is their idea, they are eager to help prepare and ultimately eat the new food. This past weekend my daughter came across a recipe for Spanish rice that she thought sounded good.
When I was a kid the very first recipe I ever prepared all by myself was Spanish rice. True story. When I told my daughter this she insisted that it be added to this weeks rotation. My daughter is at the age where she wants to know everything about me from when I was her age. She wants to do the same things, see the same things, read the same books as I did. I love it. I also know that it will pass as those teenage years descend upon us. I am enjoying it while I can.
I bring them grocery shopping with me. Usually I try to do this mid-week and not on Sunday when I do my huge shop for the week. Mid-week I don’t have as many groceries to buy, mostly just the things we ran out of: milk, eggs, bread, fruit. We are able to take more time in the store and I allow them to pick out interesting fruits and vegetables, or other real foods. Sometimes we get the new food home and no one likes it at all (even me). Other times it is a huge hit. You never can tell with these things. I believe that is what the kids have discovered. Don’t judge that yam by its outside skin!
Let your kids be as involved as they can be in the process. I allow my daughter, who is closing in on nine years old, to use knives that are sharp enough to get the job done without frustration, yet not sharp enough to amputate a finger.
I allow my son to stand on a stool at the stove and stir.
He still needs to be supervised closely, but he doesn’t mind my hovering. As long as I don’t take over completely he feels like he did it.
Kids like to feel involved and important. I love the conversations that we have in the kitchen while our hands our busy. I am always amazed at how everyone will gather in the kitchen when food is being prepared. It really isn’t a cliche about the kitchen being the heart of the home.
I think having busy hands and tasks to do makes kids more open to talking about their lives. You know how all the experts say that the best place to bring up difficult subjects with your kids is when you are driving in the car? I have found the same to be true of the kitchen.
It might take ten times as long with them helping, but try to remember they are learning life skills.
Here is another tip: My daughter is cutting the tops off of jalapenos and removing the seeds. We aren’t going to use all of these for this recipe! Don’t worry. When doing prep work, try to do whatever you will need for a few days. I have found that my kids are much more likely to reach for a healthy snack if it is already prepared. So I like to have carrots already peeled, fruit already washed, celery already trimmed. There is a reason people head for fast food, because it is easy. Make the healthy choices as easy for them to choose as the bad choices.
And kids even enjoy chopping onions of you make it a game. We all like to fake cry and dramatically retell everything bad that has happened to us in the past week.
It is more about the process than it is about the end result. When we end up with something totally delicious that we want to add to our ever growing meal rotation, I consider it a bonus. A tasty, tasty bonus.
This is the recipe for Spanish rice.
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1-1/2 cups uncooked white rice
1-1/2 onion, chopped
2 green bell peppers, chopped
3 cups chicken broth
1 28oz can diced tomatoes, DRAINED
1 seeded, sliced jalapeno pepper (or more, depending on how spicy you like food)
1 tablespoon chili powder, or to taste
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
Heat oil in a deep pan (that has a tight fitting cover) over medium heat. Saute rice, onion, and bell pepper until rice is browned and onions are tender.
Stir in broth and diced tomatoes. Be sure to drain them as much as possible. My rice came out a little more sticky than I normally like it and I attribute this to the extra liquid from the tomatoes.
Season with chili powder and salt.
Cover, and simmer for 30 minutes, or until rice is cooked and liquid is absorbed.
This is why it was important to make sure you chose a skillet with a tight fitting lid. Don’t you hate it when you make a recipe and get to the last steps and you realize your pan needs a lid, but the one you are using doesn’t HAVE a lid that fits? That can’t be only me that has this problem.
The verdict: The kids had a lot of fun helping to prep for this recipe. It had all of the things they love to do: use knives, chop things, stir stuff in a pan while it cooks. If only the hand mixer had been involved it would have been the perfect recipe in their eyes. This Spanish Rice dish was also simple enough and quick enough that they didn’t lose interest halfway through and wander off. I would have liked it a bit more spicy, but the kids all loved it just as it was.
How do you get kids involved in the kitchen? What responsibilities do you give young ones? How about older children?
Published February 15, 2012. Last updated June 27, 2018.