Eating on the go, lunch from a vending machine and fast food consumption may be all too familiar. Not only do they drain pocketbooks and expand waistlines, but they also take away opportunities for family time.
No matter how busy life becomes, it is important to slow down and spend quality time with family members.
One Columbia family is taking advantage of evenings and weekends to get their boys in the kitchen. Chris and Krista Trower started cooking with their kids because it is fun and they believe in modeling the correct methods for their children.
Krista, mother to 6-year-old Cameron and 3-year-old twins, Quinn and Charlie, says she has to be careful about what she allows the kids to do, keeping their ages in mind. Cameron can stand at the stove if his mom or dad is there, and he can set the table. Quinn and Charlie tackle more age-appropriate tasks such as frosting cookies.
Chris or Krista always preheat the oven, retrieve hot food from the oven or microwave and handle sharp knives.
While having older children help out in the kitchen may get dinner on the table more quickly, teaching the little ones takes a little more time and may make the task a bit more trying and time-consuming.
Besides being able to spend time with the family, the boys learn that cooking for the whole family can be a chore and that it is nice to help, Krista says.
As they get older, perhaps these ideas will remain in them and they will continue to fit in evening time together. It is a great way to talk about the day and takes a lot of the pressure off mom to cook dinner every night.
Another benefit of having children help cook is they feel a sense of accomplishment with what they have done. Kids are always proud of their work, and what could be more fun than being able to eat your creation? Krista says her boys will often try eating things they would not ordinarily eat just because they cooked it. It is a way of expanding the often limited list of foods that kids will eat and encouraging healthy food consumption.
Gina McGoogan prepares meals for the children at Small World Child Development. The kids there get to participate in some cooking in their classrooms. McGoogan said she thinks this is important because it teaches them the importance of nutrition.
She says cooking with children is beneficial because it helps them in their development of motor skills. She says measuring ingredients and preparing food on trays helps develop these skills. These tasks can usually be handled by kids ages 3 and up.
Cameron loves making pancakes with his dad on weekends. Chris usually does more cooking with the boys on weekends because he is not home as much during the week. The Trowers make pancakes into different shapes so they are not only fun to make, but fun to eat. Cameron helps flip the heart- and dinosaur-shaped pancakes on the griddle if his dad is by his side. Quinn says his favorite thing to cook with Dad is eggs, and Charlie looks forward to weekends when he can play with Dad and eat dinner, he says.
The Trowers have been cooking with their oldest, Cameron, since he was 2. Now, Krista says, the boys volunteer around the kitchen. They like to help empty the dishwasher and put dishes away.
Showing your kids the things that are healthy to eat, along with an active lifestyle, may help keep the growing epidemic of childhood obesity at bay. Geri Richardson, a weight-loss and fitness counselor for Person to Person, has six children. She said she has always encouraged her kids to help out in the kitchen. “Children are growing, basic nutrition is so important. I don’t believe in giving kids sugar,” she says. The problem with sugar, she said, is that children get a taste for it early because of frequent exposure and become somewhat sugar-addicted.
Richardson suggests grilling outdoors during the warmer months. Barbecues are a great way to have family time. Try grilling chicken, fish and vegetables. Serve it with fruit salad and you have a healthy, fun summer meal.
Getting children to help out in the kitchen is easier than it sounds.
First take the time to carefully wash everyone’s hands. Train children to do this while they are young. The health department says hands should be washed for about 20 seconds. An easy tip is to sing “Happy Birthday” while washing.
Next, safety is key. Consider the children’s age. Are they old enough to slice bread or chop vegetables?
Give children age-appropriate tasks so they do not get frustrated and there are no accidents in the kitchen. Setting the table and putting out salad dressings, butter or any other condiments is an important component that kids should be happy to help with.
Lastly, be sure to choose a recipe that is simple enough for the kids to help with from start to finish. They will often lose interest in some of the more complex dishes suitable for a dinner party or a romantic dinner for two.
Betty Crocker’s “Kids Cook!” or Williams-Sonoma “The Kids Cookbook: A Great Book for Kids Who Love to Cook!” have wonderful choices. Or, if you want to cook something a little more special, just have the kids help with a small part of it. When cooking dinner, for example, Krista usually has the kids help for only about 20 minutes or so, doing things such as putting rolls on a pan.
As a mom who has been cooking with her little ones for about four years, Krista has some advice. The first thing you have to do, she says, is get past the mess that will happen in your kitchen. It can all be cleaned up, and once you see how much fun they are having, it is worth it.