September is National Family Meals Month! To celebrate this very important theme, I wanted to share some practical tips for getting your family in the kitchen and helping out with meals. Before we get into how to get your kids to help out in the kitchen, let’s first talk about the benefits of family meals.
What are the benefits of family meals?
Increased fruit and vegetable consumption. A study published showed that preschoolers who ate dinner with their family every night had a higher intake of fruits and vegetables compared to preschoolers who shared <3 dinner meals per week. If having dinner together every night during the week is a challenge for various reasons, just do your best. Consider other meals throughout the week where you can eat together. See below for the recommendations on the number of servings per day for fruits and vegetables.
Children ages 2-8 need 1-2 cups of fruit per day.
Children ages 9-18 and adults need 1 ½ – 2 ½ cups of fruit per day.
Children ages 2-8 need 1-2 ½ cups per day of vegetables.
Children ages 9-18 need 1 ½ – 4 cups per day of vegetables. The higher end of 4 cups per day is for boys ages 14-18.
Adults over the age of 19 need 2-4 cups per day of vegetables. The higher end of 4 cups per day is for men.
Improved quality of diet or Less sugar sweetened beverages. Another study from the 2010 North Carolina Child Health and Monitoring Program, showed that when 5 or more family meals are eaten each week it resulted in less sugar sweetened beverages in young and older children. Sugar sweetened beverages are the #1 culprit for added sugars in the diet. So it’s huge that eating together as a family reduces that. This study also showed an increase in children eating fruits and vegetables.
Less fast food. Research shows that teens eat less fast food and takeout food when there are more family meals done at home. While we all enjoy eating out sometimes, restaurant meals are known to be very high in calories, sodium, sometimes even high in fat and added sugars.
Tips for a better meal time experience
Studies show that how a family eats together shows a positive association between children’s nutritional health. Take a look at the tips below to see which ones you can use with your family.
- Turn off the tv
- Model good eating habits
- When kids see their parents eating healthy foods they are more inclined to eat them as well. Put the same foods on their plate that are on your plate. Of course, depending on the child’s age adjust textures as needed. An 8-month old would need a different texture than a 5 year old.
- Create a positive atmosphere
- Slightly longer meal times
How to get your kids to help out in the kitchen
Pick things to do that match your child’s ability and age group. While the kids are helping out in the kitchen we definitely want to think about safety and age appropriate tasks they can do. Keep in mind that the ideas listed below are general suggestions and it is up to you to use discretion and provide supervision.
Tasks for toddler aged children (2-3 years old) could include stirring, pouring, shaking or tearing.
Children between the ages of 4-5 can chop soft fruits and vegetables with a plastic knife or juice a lemon or lime.
Children between the ages of 6-7 can read a recipe or crack eggs in a bowl. Older kiddos can chop firm vegetables or do other tasks that adults can do.
Make it a date. To reduce stress and to create a time for the kids to look forward to, plan ahead and pick a date to cook together.
Ask for their input. What meal would they like to help cook? Getting children involved in some of the decision making for a meal or two throughout the week can increase their involvement.
Go shopping together. You might think of it as a pain sometimes to go to the grocery store with your kids, but it really can help peak their curiosity. After you ask them which meals they would like to help cook, have them go to the store with you to pick out one item to go with the meal. This helps to get them involved and it makes them more likely to eat the meal since they had a hand in picking out food.
Start a small garden. This is another great way to peek your child’s curiosity. How cool is it to not only grow your own food, but to eat it too? You can start small with potted plants. -look at her website to see if she has info on this.
Kitchen safety rules
Having the kids involved in the kitchen can be fun, but we also want to consider a few safety rules while we’re having fun.
- Always wash your hands first before preparing food.
- If you have long hair it could be helpful to tie it back to prevent hair getting in the food.
- For kiddos, long sleeves could get in the way. Consider switching to a short sleeve shirt.
- Look for child safe kitchen tools like knives and vegetable peelers
- Watch and make sure the kids don’t get too close to hot surfaces or sharp knives.
- Clean up spills to prevent falls
For more recipe inspiration check out my section on healthy meals under $20!
Need some help with meal prep? I’ve got you covered here!