Like so many other areas of parenthood (think after school appointments, summer break, television, school projects), feeding children is a love/hate relationship.
We delight in watching our children scarf down a homemade meal, or enjoy their first bites of a new food. We dread possible looks of disgust, or planning night after night of nutritional fare.
Learning to cook our own food and create nourishment that feeds our bodies and our emotions is a fundamental life skill. We make plans to teach our children how to ride their own bikes and how to handle their own bank accounts, but often fail to show them the ropes in the kitchen.
All children, from elementary school students to high school students, should be taught a basic repertoire of three healthy meals.
Why? First, children like to be in charge. Cooking gives them a way to contribute and have more choice. Children are more likely to eat food they cook themselves.
Second, it is a great way to spend time together. Parents and children who cook together also are more likely to sit down at the table and eat together.
Third, cooking is a skill that requires math, reading and direction following. Cooking also helps young children practice math skills when they’re measuring and estimating portions, and it builds creativity and self reliance in children of all ages. Finally, if your children learn how to cook, once in a while you get a night off. Instant stress reducer!
Now try out some of these child friendly recipes!
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL STUDENTS
Children these ages can make recipes without using any stoves or ovens. You probably will have to have some of the ingredients pre-prepared.
Strawberry Nutella yogurt, serves 8
Easy to do with minimal adult help. Have the children whip up a big batch of this recipe and divide into eight single serving containers for a great easy snack or part of breakfast.
Instructions: Mix a large, 16 ounce tub of vanilla or plain Greek yogurt in with a 16 ounce package of thawed frozen strawberries. Fold in 1/3 cup of Nutella and mix, mix, mix. Children can also spread this on frozen waffles or layer it in tortillas with sliced bananas. Another option is to put fun mixings into yogurt: chocolate chips, graham crackers, fresh fruit, slivered almonds and granola.
Children these ages can use the microwave and, if mature, the oven. You probably still need to supervise any chopping or stove top use.
Microwaved Mac ‘n’ Cheese, serves 4
Who doesn’t love Mac ‘n’ Cheese? This is a healthy version of the child treat, especially when made with whole ingredients. Tip: have a box of pasta shells precooked and stored in two containers in the fridge to have on hand for kid creations. This makes cooking easy and uses healthy portion sizes.
Instructions: Get a large glass bowl. Pour the cold, cooked pasta into the bowl (half a box). Put 1/4 teaspoon salt (or four salt shakes) into a cup of whole milk. Spread the milk evenly over pasta. On top, place a cup of sharp shredded cheddar cheese. Measure out 4 tablespoons of butter and tuck into the bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Microwave for two and a half minutes on high. Let it sit for a minute. Open bowl up and stir the mixture. Microwave another two and a half minutes. Stir and serve. You can keep it classic or jazz it up with extras like bacon, diced apples, turkey slices, fresh vegetables (diced butternut squash and spinach go well with a white cheese version as does broccoli). Pair it with a bag of steamed vegetables and your kiddo has made dinner.
MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENTS
Children these ages can independently be taught how to operate the stove top for simple recipes (eggs, pancakes, tacos/burritos or pasta dishes).
Peach, Brie and Chicken Quesadillas, serves 4
Instructions: Have a store bought rotisserie chicken ready on hand, separating the meat ahead of time (you can also use precooked crockpot chicken). Slice one brie round (about 3 ounces) into eight slices. Slice two peaches thinly. Get 4 large tortillas. Arrange brie, peaches and chicken on one half of tortilla. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Fold tortilla in half. Heat skillet on medium for two minutes. Add tablespoon of butter, and cook until the pan is coated. Place folded tortillas in the pan one at a time. Toast on each side for approximately 2 minutes. Repeat with remaining tortillas. Serve with white beans and wilted spinach on the side.
Children these ages can be taught how to make simple meals without adult assistance. Just make sure your child knows that distractions are dangerous. Keep the kitchen screen free (no phones/iPads/TVs).
Chili Cornbread, serves 8
This casserole will become your child’s go-to meal. It can be made vegetarian by omitting the ground beef. You can make the chili mixture on a Sunday and keep it until mid week to serve for dinner.
Instructions: Pour 1/4 cup of oil in large skillet, heat on medium heat for 5 minutes. Dice medium onion, one green bell pepper and one red bell pepper. Add to hot pan with 1 teaspoon garlic powder. Stir until onions are clear. Add one pound of very lean ground beef. Break up with wooden spoon and stir together for 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in a packet of chili seasoning mix (or taco seasoning). Add in a large can of diced tomatoes, a drained can of kidney beans and a drained can of pinto beans. Grease an 8×8 pan, and pour mixture in it. Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Mix up two cornbread packages according to directions in separate bowl. Pour batter over chili mixture. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the crust is golden.