Knowing how to plan and prepare meals are vital life skills. There’s pretty much no way around it — a person has to eat. Without a knowledge of how to plan and prepare meals, however, this skill is often handed over to restaurants, along with quite a chunk of money (and some of their health, if it’s done on a regular basis).
You can help to train up your children now to have needed skills in the kitchen. As I said earlier in the series, the best time to start is when they are very young. But, the second best time to start is right now. At our house, we have put it off for a long time, but we’ve been trying to tackle it more and more lately.
Ways to Teach Children about Meal Planning and Preparation
Assist in the Kitchen
The first way to help your child to learn about meal planning and prep is to have them help Mom and Dad in the kitchen. Choose age and skill appropriate tasks for them. Remember – a five year old who is experienced in the kitchen may be more successful than a nine year old who has never helped at all. So, be sensitive about the amount of practice they’ve had.
Because I learn best by seeing and doing, I tend to teach my kids kitchen tasks in a hands on way. When I ask them to do something for the first time, I may do it first, and then set everything back so they need to do it themselves. As skill levels grow, kids are able to do those same tasks independently. Score!
Since things can sometimes get hectic during meal preparation times, I find that I am more successful at teaching skills to my kids when I am working with only one child in the kitchen at a time. If someone already has a skill and can be independent, they can work in the kitchen as well. However, I find that my personality is just as such that I can get frazzled if I’m trying to make a meal and then have to constantly stop to help multiple children.
Help with Menu Planning & Prepare a Grocery List
At our house, menu planning time also means it’s time to put together a big grocery list. Have your child shadow you as you work through the process that you usually do at your house for menu planning, as well as for preparing a grocery list for that menu. It can be eye opening to children to see how much effort goes into getting food on the table each day.
When your children are very acquainted with finding things in your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer, you can even have them act as an assistant for you. (I actually use my husband for this job.) I call out ingredients that I’m not sure if we still have or not. He tells me if we have plenty or need more. This is a great job for a responsible child.
Accompany Mom or Dad to the Grocery Store
This is another one of those tasks that, to me, is not an efficient teaching tool when I have all three children with me, but as soon as it’s a one-on-one trip, the learning experience is alive and well. Not only is it great as a one-on-one activity for learning, but my kids all really enjoy that chance to go with Mom for a big grocery trip.
Noah loves to go to look for deals. He gets excited every time we buy things that are on sale. Molly was, perhaps, my most helpful participant as she checked off my grocery list for me (clipboard and pen in hand) throughout my trip.
Independent Preparation of a Simple Meal for Themselves
In this instance, I have in mind something along the lines a child preparing their own breakfast or lunch. It’s not necessarily something that is planned out in advance. Rather, it might involve the child making their own turkey and cheese sandwich along with some carrot sticks, a dip, and yogurt.
Plan Their Own Meal (for the Family) from Start to Finish
Once they have a grasp on the idea of planning a meal, shopping for it, and preparing it, have your child work through planning and preparing a meal from start to finish with assistance as needed (or independently, if they are ready for that).
Even if they have been shadowing and helping you, they may still be surprised at the work involved.
Throw a Party or Gathering Where They Make the Food
This is a step up from the item above. Don’t just stop with one meal, assist your child as they prepare to throw a party or gathering (could just be for some family members or close friends) where they plan the menu and make all of the dishes.
Don’t worry – this doesn’t have to be a complicated menu. It can just be four or five items that your child has learned to successfully make on their own. (Maybe a fun dessert party even!)
Just remember – this step is definitely not one to just jump into. Think of this more as the final exam for many of the other steps before it.
Learn About Healthy Choices Versus Unhealthy Choices
While children are learning about planning menus, preparing food, and grocery budgets, they may be tempted to think that those $1 pizzas at the grocery store sound like a pretty great deal. There is little planning, minimal preparation, and they’re extremely inexpensive. It can seem like a win-win situation to them.
This is, of course, when we have to talk about the quality of food that we’re feeding our families. I won’t go into what are good choices and bad choices, as I know that there are variations as to what families deem to be good and bad. Either way around it though, those are lessons that you can impart everyday in very simple ways.
4-H as a Learning Tool
One thing that we love at our house is working on 4-H projects. I have found that working on 4-H projects that involve food always makes for great learning opportunities in the kitchen. My kids sometimes learn about new kitchen gadgets (last year’s big hit was a zester that we used for our orange muffins). Many groups, such as the American Heritage Girls (where my daughter goes), also have cooking badges that will allow for new learning opportunities.
Even if 4-H is not part of what your family’s life, you can often find project booklets for it at your county’s extension or 4-H office (or on the 4-H website). You can buy project books even if you are not in 4-H as a fun way to supplement your curriculum.
Kid friendly cookbooks often have recipes that kids will like, easier preparation, directions that are written on a child’s level, and sometimes even pictures to go along with directions. Libraries usually have quite a few of these types of cookbooks available (often found in the youth department instead of with the other cookbooks).
If you don’t have access to any kids cookbooks for borrowing, here are some fun suggestions you might consider adding to your cookbook collection:
Better Homes and Gardens New Junior Cookbook (this one is my kids’ favorite)
What methods do you use for teaching your kids about meal planning and preparation?
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