Family’s face many challenges and putting a meal on the table may be one of them. Whether you are a stay-at-home parent, a single-working parent or live in a house with two working adults, truth be told is you can get it done when your children get it done! Yes, involve your children with mealtime preparation. It may not be perfect, and there may be some messes but think of all the memories you will create.
Different Tasks for Different Ages
Putting a meal on the table is a team effort, and as a parent empower your team! I believe if a child can pick-up a toy and bring it to you without stumbling, they can help in some simple way. This means even a two-year old can join in the fun. Every age has a different stage of development determining the level of adult supervision. Because a two to five-year old is still developing fine motor skills they need closer supervision than a six to seven-year old who has established those skills. Be mindful, every child develops at their own pace and it is helpful knowing your child’s level of maturity and ability for you to give them direction, and in some cases a “leg up”! The fact is that short children who can’t reach the counter, the sink, or the table, will need help of a stepping stool or chair.
Children of all ages need some guidance, especially when learning new tasks. For better results, show your child how to do a task once or twice until they get the hang of it. Assigning the job best suited for them builds their confidence and responsibility while getting a meal on the table!
Five Easy Ways Your Children Can Help!
Remember adult supervision and guidance is needed at most ages, especially at the stove, using electrical appliances and sharp knives.
#1. Make it Table Ready
• Start with clean hands and a clean table. Before working with food and picking-up dishes, everyone in the kitchen needs to wash their hands. An older sibling or adult can help a three to five-year old wipe the table clean getting it ready to be “set.” As children grow-up, they need less supervision.
• Take out the dishes. Pre-teens and teens usually can take out the plates when they are at eye-level with the cabinet. If they’re unable to reach and lift heavy dishes, adults can stack the dishes and glasses at one end of the table. Once on the table, a five or six-year old can easily arrange dishes and utensils into their proper place.
• Create a ‘picture perfect’ place-setting. Many of us know our children love mobile devices. Have your child use the camera to take a photo of a “proper place-setting” – the fork is to the left of the plate, napkin under the fork, and on the right side closest to the plate sits the knife, followed by a spoon, if needed. Children five-years and older can use that picture as a “guide” every time they set the table.
• Get everyone in on the fun. Don’t forget young children as early as age two can bring napkins to the table.
#2. Get to The Basics
• Read and follow instructions. By age eight they can read a simple recipe.
• Check the ingredient list. Again, if they can reach it, they probably can take it out. Your five to six-year old can make a trip to the pantry or refrigerator and take out the basic ingredients or condiments– such as dried herbs, seasonings, ketchup or mustard, especially those in non-breakable containers. You may even trust them to carry a carton of eggs to the counter.
#3. Sous Chefs Are In The House
• Wash the vegetables and fruit. Using cool tap water, this simple task can start between ages two to five. And as early as two, a child can also easily tear the leaves for a salad. Younger children will need an adult nearby and a stool or chair to boost them to sink-level.
• Open a can. An eight to nine-year old can use a can-opener, opening-up (pun intended) a wide range of possibilities. A can of beans, is a quick nutritious ingredient in a main dish or salad. For added safety in the kitchen, I like using the can-openers that don’t leave any sharp edged cans.
• Crack eggs into a bowl. This is fun for a six-year old, and with closer supervision, experts say even your three-year old can help.
• Measure ingredients. A five-year old can spoon dry ingredients into a measuring cup and level it with the straight-edge of a butter knife. Your eight to nine-year old may be better at pouring liquid ingredients into a measuring cup, while preteens and teens, may find it easier than a ten-year old to lift and pour from heavier containers, like a gallon of milk or juice.
• Peel and Grate. A six or seven-year old can use a vegetable peeler and cheese grater. Teach them to keep their fingers away from the blade, and they can peel the potatoes or grate the cheese for a meal.
• Cut, chop and slice vegetables/fruit. Every child grows at their own pace, yet most can safely use a plastic or dull knife at age five, a paring knife around age seven to eight, and a larger knife by age ten to twelve.
#4. Let’s Get Cookin’
• Stir ingredients in a bowl. Start as early as two with the help of an adult and using ingredients at room temperature.
• Whisk or beat eggs and batters. By eight or nine your child will whisk with confidence, and learn to safely use an electric mixer.
• Make meat or vegetable patties. Your six to seven-year old can help make a burger or shape a meatball.
•Bake, Boil, and Microwave food.
⇒A mature responsible ten or twelve-year old who can stand and look down into the pan on the stove may be ready to boil water for pasta and vegetables, scramble eggs, and flip pancakes with supervision.
⇒Teach children to turn the handles of the pot or pan to the side of the stove.
⇒Your ten to twelve-year old can also learn to safely put foods in the oven – conventional, microwave, or toaster oven.
⇒Older teens and parents will need to lift heavy hot pots and pans
• Use a food thermometer. By eight a child can read a thermometer and test if food is done. Beef is ready at 60 degrees, pork at 145 degrees, chicken at 165 degrees, and fish at 145 degrees when the fish is opaque (a good vocabulary word) and flakes with a fork.
#5. Quick Clean-up
• Clear the table and load the dishwasher.
⇒ Six- year olds can remove smaller dishes the table and place them in dishwasher, and wipe the table clean.
⇒ Older children, starting with ten to twelve-year old, can carry glasses and fine plates to the dishwasher.
⇒Eight to ten-year olds can put away leftovers.
⇒Make if fun and create an assembly line from table to sink or dishwasher.
Special Thank You to Seven D. Katz photography