From the time they start eating solid foods, you worry about your kids’ nutrition. Will their aversion to vegetables affect their SAT scores one day?
But you don’t have to stand sentry over the dinner table to make sure they take two bites of everything on their plate. One of the easiest—and most fun—ways to start your kids on the path to healthy eating habits and better nutrition is to get them in the kitchen with you.
Research shows that kids are more likely to eat foods they’ve helped prepare, and that family meals translate to better nutrition and a decreased risk of obesity, not to mention encouraging communication and family togetherness. It all starts in the kitchen. Whether that means the young ones wash the greens or older siblings help with some of the more involved legwork, a little cooking camaraderie goes a long way.
Here are some kid-friendly kitchen duties:
1. Set-up. Even the tiniest hands can gather the necessary ingredients for a recipe (except maybe the eggs), and you’ll enjoy the convenience of having everything you need at hand.
2. Measuring. A math lesson and a kitchen task in one! Older kids will feel particularly helpful with a measuring cup and a few pourable ingredients.
3. Pouring. Once everything is in place and you (or they) have measured out ingredients, let your kids pour them in the bowl. More fun—and far more practical—than playing with a sand-filled dump truck, this job is especially suited for younger children.
4. Stirring. Hand over a spoon or a whisk and let them have at it. Ignore the splashes and spatters that will probably happen; spills wipe off.
5. Washing. Fresh veggies need a good rinse, and it’s a perfect job to hand off to your kids. Give them a colander and a step-stool, if needed to reach the sink.
6. Crushing and pounding. These jobs are so satisfying you might not want to share them. But a recipe that calls for flattened chicken breasts or crushed nuts is a good way to show your kids the joy of going to town with a rolling pin.
7. Sprinkling and garnishing. Put kids in charge of sprinkling on a breadcrumb or shredded cheese topping, or hand them a few lemon slices or parsley leaves and let them get creative with garnishing a finished dish.
8. Table setting. It may not sound exciting, but it’s an important part of getting ready for the meal. To make it more interesting, let them fold the napkins however they want, create a centerpiece for the table. Disregard table-setting faux pas like forks being paired with spoons.
9. Serving. Older kids can use a ladle or serving utensils to help serve up the dishes you’ve prepared together. The job gives them a sense of ownership and a pleasant dose of responsibility.
10. Clean-up. One of the best perks to having your kids help in the kitchen? They’re more likely to engage in clean-up tasks with less moaning and groaning. Have them clean as you go during dinner prep so there’s less to do after the meal.