We have learned how much children change when they grow vegetables or are involved in cooking with you. It is as if the pride they gain from being involved in growing and cooking make them more willing to eat their creations. It opens the possibility to improve the health of our young children and our closeness with them.
Growing and preparing food is a chore and an opportunity to teach a great deal to your young child. Start with the easy tasks such as helping wash fruits and vegetables. This is an easy one for your toddler to do while standing on a step stool next to you at the kitchen sink.
Until your child masters a task and remembers how it was done before, you may need to remind your little one. While your child learns, enjoy the time you have together.
A simple task would be to let your little one pour water a cup at a time into a pot that will be used for cooking. You don’t need to have him by the stove when it is hot.
Another thing your toddler can do is to use a plastic knife to spread peanut butter or cream cheese on celery sticks. He will feel very proud of using a knife even if it is plastic.
When you are making omelets, let your little one sprinkle shredded cheese onto the eggs. Make sure the eggs and pan are not hot.
When you are making cookies, put each ingredient for the recipe into a separate container. Let your child then pour them all into one bowl and stir it. Let your child then put drop cookies onto the cookie sheet. You may need to help him get started right on this one.
Your toddler can help you stir the juice into the water. Make certain you teach her to stir gently or use a big pitcher so there is room to slosh the liquid.
If your little one is outside gardening with you, look for tasks he can do. Make sure he is involved when it comes to harvesting anything he is responsible for growing. He is more likely to try anything he has grown. Find things to grow that mature quickly.
Enlist your toddler’s help for wiping down the counter with a damp rag or sponge. You may not end up with a clean counter for a period of time. Remember it is the sharing together that you have with him that is the goal not the results.
Setting the table almost always ends up being the chore of the youngest child. Remember to keep the directions simple. Let him learn first where the fork should go. He can also put out the butter, ketchup, salt, pepper, and napkins. Let him do these one at a time.
Include your toddler in making decisions about what to eat. Ask “Do you want green olives or black olives on the salad.” Let your child wash his hands before putting them in the jar to add some to each plate. Actually you want to make washing his hands a regular part of his kitchen duties.
During mealtime, make sure you compliment the chef and the preparer. Make sure your little one hears you telling his grandma about his involvement.
These few minutes spent together in the kitchen each day add up to a substantial contribution. They also add to self-esteem that comes from actively participating in family life, a sense of accomplishment, and increased interest in eating what they have prepared.
That makes for a big gain in addition to having fun and delicious time.
Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and former executive director of Parenting Matters Foundation. For more information, email to email@example.com or call 360-681-2250.