Make mealtime into fun time for your kids

by Deborah Lowther

As a parent, one of the most difficult times of the day is meal time. It’s when active and energetic kids are asked to sit still, use utensils, eat green vegetables, and try new foods.

For my family, I am a big believer in having our meals together at the table and creating a mealtime routine, but having three children in three years did not always make this an easy task. Night after night of being told to sit at the table, eat your carrots, don’t play with your food, drink your milk, and the favorite, “there will be no dessert if you don’t eat your dinner,” can turn our dinnertime into crying time.

So I decided to mix it up and add a whole bunch of fun.

I started a tradition a few years ago when I told the kids we will have special time when they are ALLOWED to play with their food. My husband thinks I’m crazy but the kids believe I am THE coolest mom ever when I tell them it’s “food fun time.”

When grocery shopping, they help me look for fun, playful ingredients and they get excited when they see the trays we use come out of the cupboard.  It’s a ‘special occasion’ kind of activity saved for rainy days or after a healthy meal. Yes, it’s messy, it’s kind of gross, the food involved is generally not very healthy, but it’s right at the top of our kids fun-list.

All you need is inexpensive large plastic trays: ones that have a nice tall edge work best to contain the fun.  We wash our hands really well and then get creative. A little chocolate pudding, mix in some vanilla pudding — with your hands of course — add some whip cream, and maybe top it off with some sprinkles. Jell-o is high on the fun chart for its colours and jiggly squishiness between their fingers. Anything goes. They love mixing it up and licking it off.

We’ve done ice cream with chocolate sauce, and I hand out straws to slurp up the melted finished product. We have even brought in a tray full of clean snow from outside. I give them some small cups to make little snow forts on their trays and some food colouring to turn it colours.  They play until it melts and then we go get more from outside.

I am hoping my healthy kids find ways to always enjoy food . . . they still have to sit still at the table and eat all their vegetables; but sometimes at dessert there is a whole lot of fun with food at our house!

How to cook with kids in the kitchen without going insane

by Deborah Lowther

The thought of cooking with my three kids in the kitchen is usually more romantic than actually cooking with my kids in the kitchen! The extra patience required, equally dividing all tasks, the extra mess, the extra time … and yet, there is no extra help with the dishes.

Despite the extra effort and the cost in time and patience, I still believe it is important to cook with my kids. They love spending the time with Mom, and for me it’s a chance to teach them about more than just preparing food.  The measuring that is involved in baking is a fun math lesson, finding 1/2 and adding 1/4 is Grade 3 level stuff. The mixing of different ingredients, whether they are healthy or not and how they change shape. Texture in the oven is science they can relate to. Showing them the difference between folding, stirring, and whipping is like a gym workout for little arms.

It’s easy to find helpers when I am making brownies, but lately I have been getting extra help with dinner too.  There are a few tips that make kids in the kitchen fun at our house and it begins with the obvious of first washing those little hands! Investing in some kid-friendly tools for the job make them eager to try it. My kids love having their own apron and getting to use brightly coloured measuring spoons and plastic measuring cups.  I bought some cutters made for kids, so they can handle cubing cheese, slicing cucumbers and make shapes with carrots.  Giving kids fun jobs in the kitchen is the secret to success.

Teach them the basics, like the difference between stirring liquid with small circles and folding ingredients together lightly.  Show them how to hold the bowl and gently mix flour and cinnamon together without it ending up on the floor.  Let them have a crack at cracking eggs, give them their own small bowl and try one egg at a time, removing the broken shells as you go!

It was get messy at the start, but it became an opportunity to show them how to be a clean chef and tidy up as they go.  Add in some elements they will enjoy, like using chocolate chips to make smiley faces on the top of the banana muffins, or make a tree out of broccoli on the veggie tray.  I ask for their input when making a hearty soup, they can decide which noodles would they like, which veggies, and what type of beans go in.  I always take photos of your fun together, nothing is cuter than a 4 year old at the kitchen counter.

The pride the kids feel when the family sits down to a meal they helped make is immeasurable. My 4-year old recently made an entire chicken and veggie lasagna. I cooked the noodles and the meat and shredded cheese while she added the carrots, peas, corn, zucchini, mixed all the ingredients, and assembled the entire dish. She was so proud at dinner!

Kids are eager to learn and have fun in the kitchen.  Who knows, a couple lessons from Mom today, might just turn into breakfast in bed tomorrow!

Follow Deborah on Twitter at @KidsGummyMum.

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