Samvida Patel, IIN Content Editor, Class of February 2015
Meal prep is a common part of “adulting.” However, with some creative thinking and engagement, it can be a great way to introduce kids to cooking! Here are some ideas for how to include children in meal planning and meal preparation, along with some easy wins to keep things healthy!
- Turn grocery shopping into a game. Pretend it’s a mission and each kid has to find an important item you need to make the meals for the week. Not only does this allow you to divide and conquer, but kids feel a sense of responsibility and develop an understanding of what ingredients are needed to prepare meals.
- Make your children’s preferences part of the conversation. Ask whether they would be open to trying a new dish that incorporates some familiar ingredients they enjoy, while also mentioning what makes it different and worth a taste. If they end up liking the new dish, you’ll have one more option for future meals.
- Gauge what sparks interest. This can be useful in determining what prep tasks kids will enjoy in the kitchen. For example, if they’re fascinated by how things work, have them place fruits, veggies, nuts, nut milk, and other ingredients into a blender and press the button to transform the ingredients into a smoothie.
Making smoothies together is a great activity. It is fun to prepare, packs in the nutrients (sneak in some veggies!), and is efficient and versatile.
Tip: Make extra for smoothie bowls or homemade popsicles to switch things up!
- Work it into weekends. Weekends are ideal days to meal prep and are golden opportunities to get kids involved and spend quality time with them. Plus, they’ll be more excited if you make their favorite foods!
If you’re making waffles or pancakes, kids can perform simple tasks, like pouring ingredients or stirring the batter! Though you wouldn’t pack veggies into waffles, you can put a healthier spin on them by adding berries, nuts, or seeds to the batter and swapping out all-purpose or wheat flour with coconut, oat, almond, or cassava flour.
Tips: Use overripe fruit, a little honey, and some cinnamon or a dash of maple syrup to make a compote to use as a topping (instead of syrup). You can also make extra batter and change up the format – make waffles one day and pancakes the next!
- Practice chopping. Depending on their ages, children can help chop veggies! Some knives, like these from Curious Chefs, are designed specifically for kids. They’re just sharp enough to cut veggies but won’t cut hands.
Tip: Use chopped veggies in pastas, soups, stir-fries, salads, grain bowls, etc.
- Play with toppings. Making topping-friendly meals, whether tacos or pizza, allows kids to assemble their own dishes and choose what they want to add. Having lots of colorful vegetables and protein options is an easy way to pack in the nutrients.
Tip: Have leftover veggie toppings? Throw them in a jar, add a squeeze of fresh lime juice, drizzle some red wine vinegar, and sprinkle in some seasoning – voilà! You’ll soon have pickled veggies for a side dish!
- Give veggies a makeover. If your child is a picky eater, give veggies a makeover! Make smoothies or sauces with brightly colored vegetables to add vibrancy, and add fresh herbs, garlic, and other spices to boost flavor and mask the vegetable taste. For example, try kale and spinach pesto or a red sauce made from sundried tomatoes and red bell peppers.
You can also make meals that keep veggies relatively out of sight. Foods like enchiladas allow veggies to hide under a tortilla. Adding beans, sauce, rice, and cheese to the mix also helps take the spotlight away from the veggies.
Tip: Reuse homemade sauces as dips for vegetable sticks, a sauté, or a condiment.
What kid-approved meals are a hit in your home? What strategies have you used for meal prepping with kids? Let us know in the comments below!