The kitchen is the heart of so many homes. It is where we gather to share family meals and to talk about our happenings. It’s where we transition from one part of the day to the next. In our children’s eyes, it is the hub of family life—the one room where family spends the most time together. So it’s safe to assume your kitchen is family-friendly but how kid-friendly is it? Can your child independently find a nutritious snack or safely participate in preparing a meal? Here are some easy ways to keep a fun, healthy and functional kitchen from a kid’s eye view.
Make smart snacking the path of least resistance. Stock the lower shelves of your pantry with healthy snacks ONLY, such as whole grain cereals, dried fruit, granola bars, and whole-wheat crackers. Store sliced vegetables and fruit in baggies or individual storage containers in the fridge so kids can easily grab them when they’re hungry. “This is one of the best ways you can ensure your kids are eating properly, even when you’re not around to supervise,” notes Dr. Rallie McAllister in her book, Healthy Lunchbox: The Working Mom’s Guide to Keeping You and Your Kids Trim. Cheese sticks and small yogurts are also some good options to have on hand. And don’t ban the cookie jar, just fill it with homemade oatmeal cookies or trail mix.
Encourage helping hands. Children love to be hands-on especially when it comes to the daily tasks they see mom and dad doing all the time. Embrace this desire and reap the benefits of having an extra pair of hands. Move all your plastic bowls, cups, and plates to a drawer or low shelf so children can have the responsibility to set their spot at the table. Make it clear that kids are welcome to get a cup of water on their own when they feel thirsty. Also, keep the napkin holder within arm’s reach of your child and let them know it’s his job to make sure every place setting has a napkin at mealtime.
Unload the groceries as a family. With all eyes and hands on the foods you regularly eat, unpacking the groceries together is a great way to reinforce the healthy food choices you are making for your family. Have your child unload the produce bags. Point out how heavy those bags are in comparison to a bag full of packaged goods, and approximate how much it weighs. Then think about how many pounds of fruit and vegetables your family consumes on a weekly basis. Also, pick out a food item that is completely new to your child—a star fruit, a unique nut, olives, rare cheese. Build up the excitement of trying something new by making it a game of seek-n-find as the kids empty the bags.
Share chopping, dicing and measuring duties. Invite kids to take part in daily meal preparation. Most preschool children are eager and able to help in the kitchen and their involvement at this age is sure to set a strong foundation for healthy meal planning. Be sure to assign young children tasks they can confidently handle on their own—mashing bananas for banana bread, scooping out the seeds of a cut cantaloupe, chopping soft fruits such as pears and melons, and filling measuring cups with flour or water. Older kids can venture to break eggs and brown ground beef on the stovetop with adult supervision. There’s also an assortment of kid-size gadgets on the market that could step up the fun—Kinderkitchen by Kuhn Rikon has a line of upbeat cooking gear in the shapes of animals. And, Sassafras Little Cook Kid’s Tool Kit is a great package including measuring cups, spoons, a rolling pin, melon baller, and whisk—available at amazon.com for $20.