School is back in session and schedules are getting hectic again, but that doesn’t mean you have to skimp on family dinners. In fact, you have an extra set of hands! Including children in meal prep, cooking and conversation at the table can reap plenty of benefits, from helping them practice math skills and exploring their creativity to giving them a first-hand lesson on teamwork. As part of our Dinner Habit blog series in partnership with National Family Meals Month, we’re sharing seven tips for looping in the little ones at mealtime:
Keep kid-friendly tools on hand
Your child wants to help with dinner — success! Now you have to make sure they can actually do it. Stock your kitchen with tools and supplies that will encourage them to be a part of the action, like step stools for reaching cabinets, low tables so they can chop and safe tools like spatulas, small graters and a colorful chopping board. And don’t forget the apron! Dressing the part is half the fun.
Let them pick some ingredients
To help them better understand where their food comes from, bring your little ones to the grocery store, market or farm to select vegetables, fruits, grains and whatever else you need for your meal. It’s a way to demonstrate seasonality — they’ll learn why certain foods taste better in the fall versus other times of the year — and what farm to table means.
Opt for frozen veggies
While fresh produce is considered best, most frozen options offer the same, if not more nutrients. We love incorporating them into family cooking sessions because the pre-cut veggies mean your little ones don’t have to handle knives. They can simply open the bag and get to it.
While we might not rely on younger kids to precisely measure all tablespoons, cups and pints, when you prep ingredients in separate containers, you can task your little ones with the mixing. Pre-pour Tessemae’s dressings, marinades or condiments into cups — ones with handles are easiest — for them to mix into stir fry, salads, pastas and more. All of our products are chock full of clean, healthy, organic ingredients, including our new shelf-stable Pantry line, so we encourage them to lick the spoon!
Spark meaningful conversation
Once the food has been cooked and the table has been set, it’s time to eat. And while it’s easy to get stuck in the rut of “how was your day” dinner talk, we’re all about more in-depth questions that can get the conversation flowing. Table Topics is packed with fun, engaging questions like “What’s our favorite thing to do at recess?” or “What’s your best family vacation memory?” They even have a Family Mealtime-themed box. Or DIY your own fish bowl of ice breakers and let each child pick the questions.
Sometimes you have to switch things up. Pretending mealtime is dinner out at a restaurant can be a fun, imaginative exercise for the kids. Set out a fancy tablecloth and arm your child with a notepad to take orders from each family member. With a few days’ notice, they can even think of a restaurant name and write out a menu.
Make chores fun
Clearing the table, wiping the counter, washing dishes — these post-dinner tasks may sound like a drag, but it’s all about how you frame it. Children working on numbers can count plates, bowls and utensils out loud while clearing the table. For cleaning countertops, give your little ones their own stash of colorful washcloths so they can have ownership of their task. Washing dishes could be the most playful of all chores — keep a sink full of warm water filled with soap and the bubbles will keep them plenty occupied.
Remember, getting your kids involved isn’t about cooking a five-star meal or prepping in a spotless kitchen. There might be messes, accidents and distractions, but that’s part of the process. By joining you in the kitchen, they’re learning the value of teamwork, collaboration and problem solving. A little spill here, a dropped spatula there — don’t stress. After all, food should be fun.
And if you’re looking for inspiration, check out the approachable, healthy and tasty recipes on our Tessemae’s blog and stay tuned for our next Dinner Habit-themed post, all about the easiest dishes to make with your family. Get ready — we’re cooking up something special.