Sometimes I enjoy cooking with my children and sometimes I do not. Depending on the recipe and the cooking skill we are working on it can be a lot of fun or it can be frustrating. It is almost always messy. Regardless of how it comes out, I know that it is important because they are learning valuable skills.
My children are currently 2, 5, and 7 years old. That means they have vastly different abilities in the kitchen as well as different interest levels and attention spans. So, I need to match up each child to recipes that work well for them. Below I have broken down some age groups and matched them up with recipes that would work well with children in those age groups.
- Two years old: children this age are good at washing fruits and vegetables. They also like to help with set up and clean up. My little guy loves to set the table and, at the end of the meal, he
uses his little broom to help sweep up.
- Three years old: children this age are good at pouring and dumping ingredients. They can also help with clean up by putting dirty dishes in the dishwasher or the sink.
- Try making Banana Oatmeal Bread with your three year old. They will enjoy pouring all the ingredients into the bowl.
- Four years old: children this age are good at peeling oranges, bananas, and hard cooked eggs; kneading dough; and mixing with a spoon.
- Try making Creamy Egg Salad Sandwich with your four year old. They can peel the eggs, dump the ingredients into a bowl, and mix everything together.
- Five years old: children this age are good at cutting with a blunt knife, cracking eggs, and measuring ingredients. My five-year-old daughter’s favorite way to help in the kitchen is measuring.
- Try making Our Favorite Chicken Noodle Soup with your five year old. They can peel the carrots, cut the celery, and measure out the water, seasonings, and noodles.
- Six years old: children this age are developing their reading and writing skills, so they are good at writing grocery lists and starting to follow recipe directions.
- Older children: as children develop their reading and cooking skills they can become more independent in the kitchen. My oldest son is seven years old and is usually the first child awake
in the morning, so he has started preparing simple breakfasts on some mornings while I am helping the younger ones get ready for the day.
Remember that kitchen skills are cumulative, so what was learned as a two or three year old carries on into their older years. I especially like this when it comes to having extra helpers at clean up time!
Our April recipe of the month is here – Fish and Noodle Skillet. This is a variation of one of our favorite Spend Smart. Eat Smart recipes – Ramen Noodle Skillet. This recipe is made nearly the same way with the exception of cooking fish in the skillet with the vegetables instead of adding pre-cooked meat toward the end of the cooking time.
My children really like this recipe for several reasons:
- They love the ramen noodles. Ramen noodles are fun to look at and they are fun to eat. For this recipe, the ramen noodles need to be broken apart before they are added to the pan. This is a great job for children to help out with.
- They love fish. Even if you are not a fish lover, this recipe is a great way to get your fish in. The fish is mixed in with the noodles and vegetables, so it does not have that “fishy” flavor some do not like. Mixing the fish with noodles and vegetables also makes it more filling, so it saves you money.
- They love the leftovers. This recipe tastes really good when it is re-heated and served for a quick and easy meal the next day. Re-heating meals in the microwave is another way children can help out in the kitchen. They can push the buttons on the microwave and learn to identify their numbers at the same time.
Try our Fish and Noodle Skillet today and find your own reasons to love it.
This week in our series on getting kids involved in the cooking and shopping, I’m going to share some tips for getting kids involved in grocery shopping. When I was grocery shopping with my 4-year-old daughter recently, I was thinking what I might share in the blog. As she was pushing the little cart she was using, I was thinking, children might look cute pushing those little carts but as a parent, sometimes they are my worst nightmare. Funny thing is, when I was back in the office and reading through some past blogs, I shared those same thoughts in a blog about grocery shopping with my son 5 years ago when he was 3! I’d encourage you to read that blog for ideas to get younger kids involved when grocery shopping.
Today, I’d like to share a couple of ways older kids can be involved with grocery shopping.
- Use our grocery budget calculator. The online calculator provides the weekly and monthly amount your family needs to spend for nutritious meals on USDA’s Low-cost Plan. To use the calculator you will need the age, gender, and number of meals eaten away from home for each member of your household. You and your child can then compare this to how much you spend on groceries. The online calculator provides tips on how to reduce your grocery bill if you are spending over that amount. It also provides ideas if you are spending under that amount. This activity can help children better understand the cost of food and why it’s important to not waste food. If you’re not sure how much you spend on food, we have resources for tracking your food expenses.
- Download and use our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. app. Older kids who have cellphones can download our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. app to use in the store. Or you can let them use the app on your phone when they are shopping with you. Kids can enter information into the unit price calculator to help you determine which item is the better buy. Or they can look up information about different produce in the store using our Produce Basics to help you determine how to select produce and how you might prepare it at home.
Next week in our series we’ll share a recipe kids can help make.
One thing I feel I do a pretty good job at is letting my kids help in the kitchen. Even though it takes a little more time and there are a few more messes, it is fun and I know my kids are learning important skills. On the other hand, one area I don’t take the time to get them involved in is meal planning. Once in a while I will ask them to pick between a couple of choices but that’s about it. Meal planning is definitely a skill I want my children to have as adults, so now is the time!
Just like with cooking, getting kids involved in meal planning may mean it takes more time but it’s time you can spend together and your kids will learn valuable skills, including how to plan a balanced meal. And since they are helping to plan the meal, they may be more likely to eat what is served.
Want to give this a try with me? Here are some tips you and I can both use to get our kids involved with meal planning.
1. Download our 5-Day Meal Planning Worksheet. I like our worksheet because it has the food groups listed at the bottom so you can make sure you include a variety of food groups in your meals. As you plan your meals, have your kids tell you which foods are part of which food group.
2. Make a list of options. If you have younger kids, make a list of options based on what you have on hand and what items are on sale at the store. Then they can choose between options such as spaghetti or lasagna, broccoli or carrots. If your kids are older, they may want to help think of the dishes to make. Another option would be to plan the main dishes and have your kids choose which fruits and vegetables to have.
3. Have a kid’s night. If planning a week’s worth of meals with your kids sounds too overwhelming, choose one night that they can plan the meal. You can provide guidelines such as they need to include foods from three different food groups.
If your kids help you plan a whole week’s worth of meals or just one night, they will learn skills that they can use for a lifetime. Next week I’ll share some tips for how to get kids involved with grocery shopping.
When I was a child, my mom always had me involved in the kitchen and grocery shopping. I went with her on every grocery run and was in the kitchen ready to help her cook every meal. I loved every minute of this time with my mom, whether it was getting to pick out the best tomatoes from the supermarket or learning how to whisk eggs, I had fun and learned so much about cooking. I am still passionate about these activities today, making time for grocery shopping once a week and making most, if not all of my meals and snacks at home. I feel that my story is an example of the importance of getting children involved in the cooking and purchasing of foods in order to allow them to learn valuable kitchen and shopping skills and build an understanding of their food choices.
When it comes to grocery shopping and cooking at home, we tend to hesitate when it comes to getting our children involved. At times it may be due to you being rushed to make dinner, in a hurry to get out of the supermarket, worried about the hazards that exist in the kitchen, hot ovens and stove tops, sharp knives, raw ingredients, or just afraid of the mess that may be left behind. However, when we involve our children in age-appropriate activities in these settings we are able to teach them valuable cooking and purchasing skills. Bringing your kids into these activities with you can also allow them to develop healthy habits like how to identify more nutritious food options while grocery shopping and adding a variety of fresh produce and colors to each meal, for example. Here are some ideas of how you can get your child involved in grocery shopping and in the kitchen.
In the grocery store:
- Give your kids the task of finding items on your grocery list in the supermarket.
- Allow them to pick out a new fruit or vegetable to try when grocery shopping.
- Play “I Spy” in each section of the grocery store.
In the kitchen:
- Give your kids the responsibility of washing fresh produce.
- Let them sprinkle on herbs and seasonings to foods you are preparing.
- Let them tear up lettuce when preparing salads or snap fresh green beans when preparing dinner.
Take the time to introduce your kids to these activities to allow them to build core lifestyle skills that they can use for the rest of their lives. It is a wonderful opportunity for parent-child bonding. Allow them to help, try new foods, and exercise their creativity. Just take a moment to enjoy all of the messes and memories.
Written by Allie Lansman, ISU Dietetic Intern
Our March recipe of the month is Homemade Mac and Cheese. This recipe is an easier (and healthier) way to make a classic favorite, so it is a good way to get children involved with a meal. In the coming weeks, our blogs will focus on different ways that children can grow a love of cooking by helping out in the kitchen.
This recipe starts with cooking whole wheat pasta in boiling water. While the pasta is cooking, children can measure out the spinach into the bottom of a colander. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water and then pour the rest of the water and the cooked pasta over the top of the spinach in the colander. Children can see how the spinach changes from raw to cooked simply by adding the hot water.
To make the sauce, you only need to put the cooked pasta and spinach back in the pot and stir in the remaining ingredients – cooking water, shredded cheese, plain yogurt, onion powder, and garlic powder. Children can practice measuring, pouring, and mixing.
The only thing left to do is eat. Enjoy!
Ovens and stoves are very useful tools in the kitchen. My oven and stove are two of my best friends; we roast veggies and meats together, we make soups together, and we sometimes even make sweets together! Even in all the fun of cooking and baking, it is important to stay safe and follow these tips on cooking safety.
1. Stick around when the stove and oven are on. Be sure to keep an eye on whatever it is you’re cooking to prevent it from boiling over, burning, or catching fire. The leading cause of kitchen fires is unattended cooking.
2. When handling hot pans, always use potholders to avoid burns. Handles hanging over the edge of the stove can be grabbed by children or knocked off accidentally. Turn all handles on pots away from you to avoid accidental spills and burns.
3. Keep all utensils away from the oven and stovetop when it is on. This includes mixing spoons, dishtowels, potholders, and paper products, that way you can avoid accidental burns or fires.
4. Turn off the stovetop and oven when you are finished using them. Once you’re done cooking and ready to enjoy your food, double check that all the stove burners have been turned off, and that the oven is no longer on. Make sure all utensils or other flammable objects are safely away from any hot surface. It never hurts to double, even triple check this step!
We hope you have learned a tip or two during our kitchen safety blog series to help keep you safe while you spend time cooking.
Written by Annie Contrady, ISU Dietetic Intern
You may remember from last week’s blog, I love prepping meals at home! I often make recipes that require quite a bit of cutting and chopping, especially when using fresh meats and produce. Knife accidents are common in household kitchens, but can be avoided if you use some good habits.
- Always pick up knives by the handle. Never touch the blade, even when it is dull.
- Choose the correct size knife for the task that you are doing. For instance, if you’re cutting a strawberry, use a small knife like a paring knife. If you’re cutting large cuts of meat into smaller pieces, then a larger, sharp knife would be the best choice. It is most important to choose a knife that feels comfortable and controlled in your hand.
- Cut food items away from the body and always use a flat surface. Cutting foods away from the body decreases the chances of an accident. Cut food on a flat surface (such as a cutting board), so it stays in one place. Do not hold food in your hand while you cut it. Be sure to keep it on the cutting board at all times to avoid having your knife slip and hurt you.
- Wash knives immediately after use. Do not place knives in a sink of soapy water to soak with other dishes. Be sure to take caution when cleaning the knife blade and let the knife air dry. When not in use, store knives safely. Knives are safe in a shield or in a drawer where the blade will not rub against other tools that could dull or damage the blade. Most importantly, keep them out of the way of kitchen traffic or reach of small children.
Next week, the last blog in our kitchen safety series will be on fire safety.
Written by Annie Contrady, ISU Dietetic Intern
Cooking at home is becoming more and more popular, which is great because it usually means healthier food and money saved! I love prepping my own meals at home. It’s a chance to make something new and delicious while controlling what I want to go in it. A home kitchen can be a wonderful spot to explore recipes, try out new skills, and even spend more time with your family and friends; however, kitchens can easily become a spot for accidents if you are not taking the correct safety precautions. Here are some quick tips to get you started and keep you safe while cooking.
1. Wash your hands. Having clean hands is one of the best techniques to prevent foodborne illness and contamination. This Wash Your Hands poster gives a great example of how to correctly wash your hands. Also, if you have long hair, be sure to tie it back before washing your hands to keep it away from your face and out of the food.
2. Have a clean work area and clean tools. Having a clean area can cut down on the chances of food contamination and keep you organized. Who wants to work in a dirty kitchen anyway? Be sure that all equipment you use, such as knives, cutting boards, bowls, and other tools are clean and dry before use. Also, keep all cabinet doors and drawers closed to avoid injury and spills.
3. Wash and check your ingredients. If you’re using fresh fruits and vegetables, be sure to wash them thoroughly with cool, running water, being sure to remove all signs of dirt. Also, check them over for signs of spoilage. If you see soft spots, mold, or other signs of spoilage, be sure to throw out the piece of food to avoid food borne illness.
4. Keep cold food cold and hot food hot. Cold foods should be kept below 40°F and hot foods should be kept at 140°F or above. This helps to keep ingredients from spoiling. This means that if you need a cold ingredient, such as milk, only take it out of the fridge when you need it, and be sure to put it back when you are done.
Next week, I will share the second blog in our kitchen safety series with tips on knife safety.
Written by Annie Contrady, ISU Dietetic Intern
Our February recipe of the month is Honey Mustard Dressing. This is a super easy homemade dressing that can be used for more than just salads.
To make this dressing, combine ¼ cup each of only four ingredients – Dijon mustard, honey, cider vinegar, and oil – in a container with a tight fitting lid. Shake well and serve. This dressing has many uses:
Try our Honey Mustard Dressing this month; I think you will like it!