Imagine your children preparing dinner with you, making their lunch for school the next day and cleaning up after meals. Would you believe me if I told you that young children enjoy all of these activities and more? In this post, I am going to describe why getting children involved in preparing meals at a very young age is worth the extra time and effort and how seemingly simple chores have huge positive effects on children and family life. In my second post of this two post series, I will share my favorite beginner tips on how to incorporate children into the mealtime process in a fun and stress free way.
Meal Prep Takeaways for Children (and Adults)
There are a lot of great reasons for preparing a meal or snack with your children. They span from empowering children to feel more capable and independent to giving them activities that actually help with their fine motor and gross motor abilities. From toddlers to teenagers, every child in the family can play a part in preparing meals. Below, are some significant takeaways regarding mealtime prep for children (and adults too).
When we prepare meals with joy and purpose and share a meal as a family, we are modeling that taking care of our bodies and our family is important and significant work. In the process of preparing the meal, we are also modeling so much more than we are aware (order and organization, quantities and measurements, the clean up process, language, etc.). It’s pretty awesome actually (check out my series on modeling for more info on how children learn).
2. Big Work and Learning
Work for children doesn’t have the negative connotation that many of us adults give the word. Work is purposeful, joyful and productive. Big work is work with many steps, responsibilities and full of learning moments. Imagine a young child counting out raisins to place in muffin batter. They are delicately pinching the raisin and placing it into the batter, unknowingly working on fine motor skills and the beginnings of math. Learning really does take place when we least expect it to and meal preparation is full of unexpected learning moments.
3. Contributing to Family Life
Children enjoy work especially when that work involves being part of and giving back to the family. Taking part in house chores and helping mom and dad are ways for children to experience what it means to be part of a community. They learn that being in a community is about helping the group and that the group is bigger than just them. They learn what it means to give help and what it feels like when their help is received and appreciated.
4. Trust and Responsibility
By involving our children in meal preparation, we are outwardly showing trust. The subtext of our words and actions is that, “You are capable and I trust you.” Along with this sense of responsibility, come many other positive attributes such as confidence, joy, self-reliance and critical thinking skills. It’s important to note that the physical space must be set up to meet the needs of the child so that true trust can be conveyed. I’ll speak about this in more detail in my next post.
5. Learning about Food and Culture
Preparing meals with our children is a fantastic way to educate them on where food comes from and how it affects our bodies. Many children are surprised to learn how and where different foods grow. At an early age, we can teach our children the benefits of fresh and healthy eating.
Preparing meals with our children is also a great way to experience different recipes and foods from around the world bringing geography and culture into the kitchen. Children love learning about how other children in different cities and countries live. They love learning about what they eat and what foods are native to their countries. They especially enjoy learning about celebrations in other countries and the foods that are a part of these celebrations. Food can be part of a child’s educational journey.
6. Help your Picky Eater
Parents often say how their child is a picky eater or how their child would never eat a specific item. They are often surprised when they learn that their child ate that item at school or a friend’s house. Children are just like us. They are more likely to try different foods when they have seen them, smelled them and prepared them. Young children especially like to see the separate ingredients that go into preparing a meal. In addition, when children are a part of the process, they are a part of mealtime choices. Choice (even between two items) is empowering for children. With this newfound empowerment, they are more likely to try the foods they chose and were a part of creating.
7. Sharing the Work
It’s sometimes difficult for us adults to share responsibility. Many of us think it’s easier if we just do it ourselves. We may do this with partners, children, and coworkers. But is it easier? And what message are we sending? When we share responsibility, we are showing our children that the family’s well-being is not the sole responsibility of one family member, but the responsibility of the whole family. For those of us who are hesitant to share the responsibility, we need to ask ourselves why that is. Is it a control issue? Is the environment set up appropriately? What changes need to be made so we share the work?
Who knew that meal preparation could have so many learning moments? I would love to hear from you. What learning moments is your family experiencing in the kitchen? In my next post of the series, I’ll be sharing tips of how to get children involved in the process.
Keep well, S