There are some very solid reasons to involve children with meal planning and preparation. The most common ones are:
- You have a very fussy eater.
- Your child loves “junk food” too much.
- You need to keep your high-octane ball of energy busy and/or entertained.
Another very good reason is that research from the National Institute of Health shows that children are far more likely to eat healthy foods when they have helped prepare them.
If you decide to venture down this road, keep in mind: children’s palates are not as finely developed as adult palates.
The key is to be creative and encourage the child to be creative, as well. It is a great opportunity to re-ignite your imagination!
Ten Tips to Ensure Successful Food Planning with Kids
- Listen to their ideas. Get their input as you are making your grocery list, and thank them for their help, even if their ideas sound less-than-appetizing to you!
- Have fun with the process. Your children will follow your lead. You will set the tone. Make it an adventure. Have them make the list on a colorful note pad or special “Cooking” tablet. Have them draw pictures, or make up funny names for common foods. Be sure to take him grocery shopping with you and let him find the items on the list.
- Dare to be different. Kids love “out-of-the-ordinary” things; so, be prepared to jump right in when your child suggests a combination that sounds unusual or strange. Be willing to experiment.
- Plan ahead. Shop around and buy two or three of the cookbooks designed and tested to appeal to children’s palates and imaginations. Start with one and let your child pick out a few recipes that appeal to him/her. Go over the recipes, make your list and shop together.
- Think and buy in miniature. Children are often enchanted by anything that is more in scale with their tiny fingers than yours. Dolls’ tea sets, tiny drinking glasses, mini marshmallows, baby bananas or miniature knifes and forks all go a long way to making eating feel like play.
- Combine fruit and vegetables. Take your child shopping and allow him to pick a number of fruits and vegetables (set a limit, if you are on a budget!) Ask her to think up the most whacky combinations she can. Once you get home, take the time to prepare the foods you have chosen (don’t let the moment pass). Add a healthy, yogurt dip (a hint of raspberry or pineapple juice or a little honey will enhance fruit and veggies alike). Then, watch your children eat raw foods with relish.
- Make or buy a special apron for your child. Nothing says, “It’s “cooking fun time” more than having a special apron to wear. It can be particularly exciting if the child helps you make the apron. (Great choice if sewing is your thing.) Ask him or her to choose the color, the fabric, and the trim. You could make a mini-BBQ apron or “Top Chef”, if you have a son.
- Have a cooking routine. Set aside a specific time during the week for planning, with specific days for food prep. Planning could be done on Monday after school, or Saturday mid-morning. Some choices that may be workable for preparation are: Saturday lunch, Friday dinner, Sunday morning brunch, and after-school snacks. Pick time slots for planning that go with your child’s natural rhythm. It would not be a good idea to try to generate enthusiasm about planning menus early Saturday morning, if s/he is not a morning person.
- Make your own “take-out.” There are some great recipes online for your child’s favorite “fast foods” such as: Sliders, Chicken Nuggets, Chick-Fil-A, Pan Pizza, and more. Check out BuzzFeed Life for ideas and start have fun creating healthier versions of your child’s favorite “take-out.” You can substitute lower-fat ingredients, use less salt and sugar, and avoid the harmful additives that are found in most fast foods.
- Prepare a picnic. Picnics add a festive air to any meal and you do not have to travel to have a picnic. They can be held on the back lawn, the front porch, the deck, or the local park. The menu can be anything from a simple lunch basket to a full-blown grilled dinner. Be sure to include the “special” touches such as colorful plates and goofy utensils, your family’s picnic blanket, a checkered tablecloth (available at the dollar store), or homemade toothpick people for eating your fruit salad. In fact, let your child (children) plan the picnic. Don’t forget the games.
The best advice I can give regarding how to get your children to eat healthy foods is to set the example! This cannot be a “Do as I say – not as I do” scenario if you really want to be successful in your effort. Stop deluding yourself into believing that you can convince them to choose fruit-and-veggie snacks when you continuously snack on potato chips and Ho-Ho’s.
Children may listen to your words, but they live what they see. When they are involved in choosing and preparing what they eat on a regular basis, they learn that food is more than simply necessary nourishment for the body. They learn that the ritual around food can be a wonderful, pleasurable experience, as well.
Instead of recreating nostalgic memories of eating comforting fast food French fries, they will turn to whipping up a quick and easy batch of fresh, chocolate-dipped strawberries, fresh bananas in oatmeal, or tasty vegetable stir-fry during those difficult adult times when they need the solace of childhood memories to sustain them.
That is a priceless gift you can give to your child’s future self.