Does the thought of kids helping in the kitchen send you into a fit of anxiety with visions of big messes and broken dishes? Fear not! Though we can’t guarantee the prevention of a mess or two, there are many benefits to having the little ones help to prepare meals. Here are some tips from Katy Wright, Arizona cattlewoman, mom, and survivor of letting her three kids (all under 5) help in the kitchen. And she does it all with grace.
Memories from my childhood include hot meals on the table and beef on the menu more than anything else. I grew up completely confident that beef was a “no brainer” for feeding families, especially children. I still hold this same opinion today with my own kids and am grateful I can frequently include beef as our protein of choice. I’ve learned some tips for including beef on kid-friendly menus as well as some ideas on ways to include kids in the kitchen.
Tip #1: Cook once, eat twice.
Or three times. Time is valuable, isn’t it? Even if you don’t have multiple small children underfoot, time always seems to be in short supply. One of the best tips I can offer while meal planning, is to plan on cooking your cut of choice and then how you would like to use the leftovers. This saves both time and money in the long run. One of my favorite ways to do this include roasts in the slow cooker (like a Crock-Pot). The slow cooker always makes me look good because I can “set it and forget it” and go about the business of my day with minimal thought about dinner. Just last week I put a top round roast in the slow cooker with a can of beer and packet of onion soup mix. It cooked all day, and I served it with potatoes and a vegetable that night. I made the most of my leftovers by making roast beef sandwiches the next day, and burritos the day after that. Win-win-win.
HB helping cook ground beef. For enchiladas, I lay out the ingredients and HB helps assemble.
Tip #2: Provide safe opportunities for kids to participate.
My kids are at the wonderful (and sometimes chaotic) stage of life where they want to help with everything. Whether it’s washing windows, changing laundry or cutting vegetables, they are often asking if they can chip in. And while it is easier and more efficient at times to charge forward without them, this is the time of their lives to be creating helpful habits for the future. They also take pride in the tasks in which they get to contribute. When it comes to kids helping in the kitchen, slow down, and find tasks that can be completed safely by small hands. In my own kitchen, some of these tasks include stirring ground beef as it cooks, peeling carrots and adding spices.
Tip #3: Choice is the spice of life.
My kids love getting to choose. It doesn’t matter what the options are, they love having the power to choose. If you struggle with getting kids to eat their dinner, whether it’s just the vegetables or all of it, make choices a consistent part of your dinner time routine. When I’m meal planning, I ask for suggestions from my kids on what we should include on that week’s menu. More often than not they request hamburgers but it still makes them feel included. Another way to incorporate decision making, is to allow your kids to choose what they eat and when. I don’t mean letting them choose cereal over a hot meal for a dinner that you’ve prepared, instead allow them to choose if they’re going to eat their beef or vegetables first. This empowers them and allows them to feel like they have a little control over their own decisions.
Like all things in life, children change and grow constantly, forcing us parents to adapt and grow with them. Intentional choices like meal planning leftovers, slowing down to allow children to help and providing opportunities for choice can make a huge difference in their lives.