Mother Teresa once said, “Wash the plate not because it is dirty nor because you are told to wash it, but because you love the person who will use it next.” Much of the work that happens in a family’s kitchen is a labor of love. This is often done by one person. That’s why we’ve put together a collection of creative ways to involve your whole family in mealtime preparations.
As my children have grown, so have their abilities to help me out. When they were toddlers, the “help” looked a little more like spoons and forks relocating from the dishwasher to the kitchen floor. I knew their heart was in the right place.
Still, with each stage of development, we can teach our children skills in the kitchen that will last a lifetime. I love this because it not only teaches them how to work as a team in this family, but they begin to understand the power of a strong work ethic.
Let’s take a look at some creative ways you can invite your family to do more in the kitchen this week.
Designate age-appropriate tasks.
A good starting point is to figure out what tasks your children can safely do to help out. I believe children are never too young to start contributing in the family. That means, if you have very young helpers, they could set the silverware on the table, count napkins, or fill cups with ice.
Early grade schoolers can help with tasks like measuring, stirring, pouring, seasoning, and, best of all, taste testing. Give them a chance to weigh in on what types of seasoning they should add and, if you’re feeling daring, how much to add.
Older children are ready to become kitchen “apprentices” by learning about anything from proper food prep techniques to cooking to time management.
Let the kids choose the menu.
When we get our children involved in the menu selection, they’re much more likely to eat what’s on their plate, right? This doesn’t mean we allow them to choose chicken nuggets with a side of M&Ms and Doritos every night. It does mean we can open the discussion about daily nutrition, the benefits of each food group, and creating a well-balanced meal.
To help your children understand the five food groups, here is an excellent video that includes a short quiz at the end to test what they learned.
Turn one meal per week over to the kids or spouse.
As your children’s skills and experiences in your kitchen grow, they’ll eventually be old enough to make meals for you. Let them! It’s time to get out your planner, let them pick a day of the week or month, and turn over the dinner plans.
Perhaps this is something your significant other can jump in on, too. He or she has a lifetime of various skills and family recipes (and epic tunes) to share in the kitchen. This will give the kids a chance to make more memories with him or her while giving you a break.
Rebecca, an Indiana mom, told me in a recent interview her 4-year-old especially loves helping decorate homemade pizzas after his dad rolls out the dough. “It’s a couple-day process but a lot of fun for everyone.”
Turn on music or an audiobook.
Guess what takes stirring chili or loading the dishwasher with your family to the next level? Cranking up the tunes and having a dance party in the kitchen. Take requests from each family member and play their favorite songs or listen to a favorite movie soundtrack.
Don’t forget to include some of your own favorites. Some of my fondest memories as a child were spending time together with my dad in the house or garage while he played his favorite Beach Boys albums for us.
Audiobooks are another great option for enjoying stories without the distraction of a TV or iPad playing a show during meal prep.
Here are some of our favorite apps and websites for great audiobooks:
Hoopla - Free library app for audiobooks AND music.
Set a timer.
Sometimes, when I ask my children to participate in a chore or family task, I see their shoulders slump and hear the age old question, “Mom, how long is this going to take?”
By setting a timer, I’m giving them a clear-cut answer of how long I expect them to participate. This also helps everyone stay focused on the task at hand.
Bonus Tip: If your children are old enough to read, then show them the recipe and see if they can answer their own question by seeing how much time the meal will take. This is a great way to help them understand time management in the kitchen.
Offer to hire them for “extra credit” chores.
It’s up to you if you want to pay your children when they help with meals. We don’t typically count things like setting the table or baking muffins as chores for money, but there are extra tasks we do make available.
For example, our oldest is saving for a new bike. By giving her more work in the kitchen, like sweeping and mopping the floor or loading the dishwasher by herself, I get the help I want while she builds her bike fund.
Choose a theme.
Comedian and actress Tina Fey shared how her daughters created a meal with an airplane theme in a recent interview on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Her two daughters dressed up as flight attendants, provided their “passengers” with a safety briefing, dinner on trays, sleep masks, and in-flight entertainment (individual movies streaming as they ate). Talk about creativity!
Gloria, a grandmother in North Carolina, suggests a fun bake-what-you-read theme. Mix and roll out your favorite sugar cookie douh, then use cookie cutters or cut free-hand. Add colorful frosting and decorate. “The shape of the cookie,” says Gloria, “could be a character they are reading about or favorite like Clifford or The Lorax.”
Want to start brainstorming some fun themes with your kids? Here’s a great place to begin.
Stockpile tasty recipes.
Ready to start planning your next family meal with your children? Here are some great places to find delicious recipe ideas:
Pinterest - My, oh my, does Pinterest have a lot of recipes. My daughter loves sitting with me as we scour the Internet and pin recipes to our “Food” board. You can sort recipes into any category you want: Desserts, snacks, holiday-themed, etc.
Family cookbooks - What a beautiful heritage to pass down to our next generation. If your parents, grandparents, or other relatives have favorite cookbooks or recipes, this is a great opportunity to introduce those to your children.
Try out any of these yummy ideas (or save them for later):
Inspire your young chefs with a kid-friendly cookbook of their own: New Junior Cookbook by Better Homes and Gardens
Whether it’s a disco party as you sing into spatulas or taking turns tossing toppings onto pizza dough, the kitchen is an incredible place to make memories, serve each other in love, and have a bunch of fun along the way.
How do you enjoy getting the whole family involved with meal prep in your home? We’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below!
Join the conversation