This is the second in a series of posts about cooking with children. Read the first post here.
We all want our families to eat healthy. This can be hard when we have picky eaters that only like noodles, bread, and shredded wheat cereal. Not very well rounded, right? Teaching my children to cook also involves teaching them about proper nutrition and consequently meal planning. Meal planning has so many benefits: cost savings of groceries, knowing ahead of time what to cook thus decreasing stress, healthier lifestyle (less eating out), and when kids are involved – less picky eating!
If you aren’t already in the habit to plan meals ahead of time please change your habit! It really is a lifesaver. Once you get in the habit you’ll be more influential in teaching your children this skill.
An easy start to planning meals is to make a list of every type of main food dish you normally eat. I have a long list of chicken dishes, beef dishes, seafood recipes, soups, breakfast foods, etc. that I keep on the side of the fridge. When we try a new recipe that we like we add that to the list. When it’s time to sit down and plan out the meals for the week it’s handy to look at the list for ideas.
How Our Family Plans Meals
Every family situation is different. You may only need to plan for dinner for the whole family for the week. Because we homeschool and live on a farm we are able to eat every meal together as a family. I LOVE this! Our main meal is also lunch because during the hectic days of summer the men all quit at a certain time in the heat of the day to go home for lunch, whereas dinner time varies depending on whether hay still needs to be hauled, or baled, or machines fixed before the next day’s work. We plan every meal for every day of the week because we can and need to.
Our chores are rotated on a weekly schedule which means each child has one week where they are in charge of the kitchen including meal planning, cooking, and cleaning. Our weeks run from Sunday to Saturday (following the calendar) but my shopping is all done on Wednesday (out of necessity to consolidate our trips into town to save on gas) so my weekly shopping list covers half of one child’s week and half of another child’s week. When it’s time to create our menu plan for the next week here’s what I expect depending on the age.
4-6 year olds will usually suggest just the main dish. I’ll add the sides on my own. As we cook together during their week I’ll usually say why we’re having certain side dishes so they learn that having a variety of vegetables, fruits, and legumes helps to keep our bodies healthy.
7-10 year olds will suggest every part of the meal with tweaking from me to teach them the importance of rounding out the meal from each food group. “Corn, potatoes, and bread? That’s a lot of starchy foods. Why don’t you think of a different vegetable?” The food pyramid is introduced. We also talk about having a variety of colors on the plate so a meal looks more pleasing.
11 and older I expect them to do it all on their own and they do! Occasionally I have to remind them to serve more vegetables or not serve beef dishes three days in a row but for the most part they are able to plan excellent yet simple meals.
One benefit of letting my children meal plan that I didn’t foresee when I started was the whining and complaining of what was served dramatically went down. Once my children realized how much effort is involved in planning meals and then cooking them they were less inclined to make negative comments, especially when they knew those comments could be made to them on their days of cooking.
It’s been so fun to see the different cooking styles of my children emerge. Bon Bon loves to do “gourmet.” She really gets into cooking and consequently experimenting, and DANG! if she doesn’t have a natural talent for it. Thursday we had homemade ravioli with two different sauces, a wonderfully rich and fattening homemade alfredo sauce and a sweet tomato basil sauce. I swear I always gain weight on her week of cooking. Semisweet is more like me. We like to eat healthier, have more whole grains, lots of veggies and keep things simple but delicious. Brownie’s style is starting to peek through a little too. We know it’s her week to cook because we ALWAYS have tuna noodle casserole. Do you know any other person in the world, much less a ten year old, whose favorite food is tuna noodle casserole?
Take a little time this week to plan your meals. Involve your children! Whether you give them a whole week to help or rotate days instead it doesn’t matter. Just give them the experience and chance to learn.