Families eating meals together is associated with healthier children (and higher IQs, less depression among other benefits) according to The Family Dinner Project based at Harvard University. Getting children involved in dinner time food selection and preparation can help expose kids to new or less familiar foods, help them build skills, minimize the short order cook phenomenon (you know….you are making X food for this person and X food for that person), and help make everyone feel well and well fueled!
As a parent (or grandparent, aunt, uncle, favorite cousin), you are a strong role model and influencer in your child’s(ren) food selection and in their willingness to try new foods. Eating together is an opportunity to get excited about and encourage your child(ren) to try a food. When introducing new foods to them, begin early and serve them often. When children are eating foods, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends offering a wide variety of foods to acquaint kids with a variety of tastes and textures. Many children need to try a food several times before developing a taste for the food. Children may not love a particular food the first time (or second or tenth time), but they may not have liked it yet.
Family meals don’t materialize without planning, so involve children in shopping and cooking. This may sound like a huge undertaking, but including them gives them a say in what is offered and eaten. This is an important aspect of family meals and communication and builds skills they will need to prepare food when they are grown. To help them get there, scale jobs based on their age and capabilities (see after the article for age appropriate ideas).
The time you invest in family meals and helping children learn to prepare and cook food may also have another reward, a meal cooked for you!
Happy and healthful eating,
Donna G. Pertel, MEd, RD, LDN
Nutritious, delicious, and practical meal prep for the whole family? It can be done. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Examples for young children
- Choose foods for a fruit salad or vegetable and meat kabob
- Wash fruits and vegetables
- Add premeasured ingredients
- Select serving bowls or plates
- Set the table
Examples for older children
- Learn to use a knife safely and chop foods
- Calculate or measure ingredients for a recipe (reinforcing math skills too!)
- Engage in a variety of food preparation tasks, such as juicing and zesting citrus fruit, peeling fruits or veggies, mixing or folding in ingredients
- Help with clean up after a meal
Examples for teens
- Sauté onions, peppers and other foods
- Prepare eggs by scrambling or hard boiling
- Tackle recipes on their own to build cooking skills
- Make one recipe for a meal or family gathering
(Photo credit: Alicia Burke, BIG Member)