How to Get Kids Involved in Meal Prep

How to Get Kids Involved in Meal Prep

The slower days of summertime can be glorious… plenty of time to sleep in, give everyone in the family space to do their own thing, and let schedules and obligations relax a bit. Summer afternoons are the perfect time to invite your kids to join you in the kitchen. It’s too hot to play in the backyard, and everyone’s getting hungry. So pull up some stools, do a little prep ahead of time, and break out the aprons. Don’t be intimidated by the thought of kids and knives–we’ve got all the tips you need, including safety. 


Kid-sized tools. Have you ever heard the adage “a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp one”? It’s true. So, too, each of your kids needs to have tools that fit their hands. A small spatula, wavy or silicone knife, little whisk and child-sized oven mitts will go a long way to make your kids feel included, take ownership of their kitchen jobs, and stay safe while helping. 


Access to space. Depending on the age of your children, this may not be an issue. But for those under the age of six or seven, you’ll want to invest in a kitchen helper or sturdy step stool to provide safe access to counter or sink space. No one should be cutting or even washing dishes while standing on tip-toes! 


Attention and focus. This may seem obvious, but when you invite your kids to help you cook, that’s all you should be doing. Take some time while they’re napping, playing or watching TV to prepare the space. Pull out ingredients from high pantry shelves, gather everyone’s tools, and set out everything you’ll need on the counter within arm’s reach. Then, wash hands together, get aprons on and talk through the plan. Give everyone an assignment that’s age-appropriate and suits their interests. This includes you! For instance, if you’re new to working together in the kitchen, a pizza night might be an enticing way to get everyone involved. Rolling dough, choosing toppings and sprinkling their own cheese is a super-fun Friday night family dinner. Or, if you’re trying to get more veggies in their diets, let them peel, chop and steam or roast their own. Something about making it yourself makes it seem more delicious. 


Realistic expectations. Break down tasks you do in one fell swoop into bits and parts your kids can assist with. If you’ve got multiple kids and one is much younger, let the little one put on an oven mitt and help you open the oven door, for example. Or let them be in charge of washing produce or dishes. (Put a towel on the floor around their stool and make your peace with an extra load of laundry. It’ll be worth the joy you see on their face. Promise.)


Foster independence. As a bonus, now that you know your kids can handle a little food prep, why not set them up with a self-serve station? It might actually lessen the number of times you hear a whining voice say, “I’m hungry, can I have a snack?!” each day. For most kids, this is a simple task. Create space on the lower shelves of your fridge and stock it with small containers of fruit (either pre-cut, or ready for them to cut), cheese and yogurt. Similarly, fill a large tupperware with pre-portioned crackers, nuts, pretzels or other pantry items and let it live on a low shelf so they can grab what they want, when they want it. 


Whether your kids are four or 14, working in the kitchen together to make a family meal is a great way to bond, make memories, and escape the sweltering summer heat. Plus, it’s nice to not do it all yourself, isn’t it? Let them help create menus and grocery lists too–even if they’re only interested in recreating their favorite concession-stand meals. Now, who signed up to wash the dishes!?