For many families, back to school time will mean a change in family routines: sports practices, games, clubs and meetings, music lessons, and homework all seem to work against finding time for family meals. While eating together everyday may not be possible, we encourage you to find time for family meals at least 3x per week. With a little family discussion, prioritizing, and assistance from all family members, eating together can be a pleasant and necessary time for everyone to connect!
At times, it may be difficult for younger children to TELL about their day. Cut apart these “conversation cards” to help get started at dinner time. Have your child pick one or two cards to begin the conversation. There are blank cards for you to fill in your own ideas to help your child share! Conversation Cards for Family Meals
Enlisting the help of children
Children who are allowed to help in the process of cooking and baking, will gain valuable skills, a sense of responsibility, and valuable connections to adults.
Discuss safety rules for dangerous situations with your children BEFORE working in the kitchen. What word(s) do you use with your children to signal a present danger? Using a word that is ONLY used in dangerous situations is helpful. That word might be, “STOP” or “FREEZE.” Choose a word that is not used routinely with your children and use a tone that signals the importance of the word. Never use the chosen “danger” word with your children, unless a danger is present. If parents casually use the chosen “danger” word in everyday situations, it will not be as effective. If you’d like your children to OBSERVE food preparations only, asking them to put their hands in their pockets or behind their back may be helpful. Remind children that knives are only used in food preparation and are not toys or swords. When using utensils or appliances in the kitchen, an adult must ALWAYS be present and aware of potential dangers for young children.
Skills that are age-appropriate (generally) for children in the kitchen:
One year olds: Infants can taste and smell new aromas, touch some foods, observe adults, begin to point/use signs for foods and utensils, fill and dump containers (remember DUMPING out and knocking down are important skills), and stack plastic or wooden bowls/containers.
Two year olds: 2’s can begin to clean tables with a cloth, use a vegetable brush, rinse vegetables and salads, tear greens or other vegetables, explore safe utensils, carry some items to/from the table, and use words/signs for most foods.
Three year olds: 3’s can begin to fold napkins, place things in the trash or compost, knead dough, wrap vegetables for grilling or cooking, pour cold liquids, carry non-breakable dishes and cups, transfer cool food to serving dishes, wash non-breakable dishes and cups, spread soft spreads, and mix recipes in a large bowl with assistance.
Four year olds: 4’s can begin to peel and mash fruits, set the table, cut some herbs with safety scissors (buy a pair for kitchen use only), juice some fruits, crack nuts, crack eggs, core apples (with large-handled “safety” corer), measure ingredients with increasing accuracy, assemble ingredients using picture recipe cards, and begin basics for fractions used in measuring.
Five year olds: 5’s can mix ingredients in smaller bowls, peel hard-boiled eggs, cut with plastic knives, pour from larger pitchers or containers, measure with increasing accuracy, dry dishes and help to put away, learn to distinguish amounts in measuring cups and spoons, and “read” basic recipes with assistance.
*Remember that these are general skill guidelines and some children may not be ready for each skill at any given age.
While teaching children to be safe in the kitchen and to help in family meal preparations requires some time and effort, the values built in sharing responsibilities and communicating as a family will outlive the food being served!
For more fun ideas see Preschool and Kindergarten Themes for Active Learning and Play!