Cooking with your kids is one of the best ways to get them to eat healthy real food, and a great way to boost their excitement is by involving them in meal planning.
When children can take ownership of breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snacks, they tend to really think about what they’ll be eating. When you first start giving your children a voice in meal planning they may provide outlandish ideas such as cheeseburgers with cookies for buns or string cheese for every meal, but you can curb this by showing them how you do your own meal planning, and what you take into account (nutrition, budgets, what’s on hand) so they understand how meal plans work. And of course, do your best to make meal planning fun!
A ideal way to start meal planning with your children is to first set some ground rules such as "no junk food," or that each meal must have at least one vegetable. From there, you can make meal planning fun (and educational). You can even make it a game, by saying that a meal has to include something that's sticky/lumpy/liquid/smooth, or that it has to include the color orange.
You'll be surprised at the creative meals kids will come up with — you may assume if the meal “must include something orange” that they will choose carrots, but they may surprise you with the idea to make something with sweet potatoes, orange bell peppers, or turmeric.
These types of questions also increase your child’s food literacy. If the meal must include one grain, for example, then you can teach them what a grain is, and give them examples of different types of grains and how to prepare them. Visit your local grocery store’s bulk department with your child and learn about all of the different healthy and tasty grains to try (you will learn just as much as your kids!). Why not incorporate amaranth into a future dinner? While planning your meal you can also learn all about amaranth with your children, and have conversations that branch off from that, like about amaranth as the staple food of the ancient Aztec civilization, or that it's gluten free — leading to talks about food history or food science.
You and your children can get fantastic meal ideas from kids’ cooking magazines and cookbooks, too. A couple of great magazines include St. Paul-based Ingredient Magazine and ChopChop, which also has a great cookbook, ChopChop: The Kids’ Guide to Cooking Real Food with Your Family.
Here's a fun start: Kids love the following recipe and you can incorporate a whole array of colorful vegetables such as bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, and more! Involve your children in this meal and ask them what vegetables they would like to include on their Pizza Kabobs.
8 pepperoni slices
8 cubes of mozzarella cheese
Various vegetables cut into bite sized pieces
8 1-inch cubes of Italian bread
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 cup pizza or pasta sauce
1. Wash hands and vegetables
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
3. Put cubed bread in a bowl and mix in the olive oil and oregano
4. Poke the pepperoni, cheese, vegetables, and bread onto 4 bamboo skewers or bamboo chop sticks
5. Place the kabobs on a baking sheet and bake for 5-8 minutes, just allowing the cheese to melt slightly
6. Dip the kabobs into pizza or pasta sauce and enjoy!
So don’t delay, start involving your children in meal planning right away! You will be surprised at how much fun you will all have and how quickly your children will become more adventurous eaters.
All photos provided by Budding Farmers
Monica Irwin created the Budding Farmers program, which teaches young children about healthy real food produced by their local farmers. She developed the program after working within the local food system as a CSA farmer, farmer’s market manager, community educator, and good food activist. She received her B.S. Degree from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana and currently resides in Northfield with her husband Dan, daughter Harriet, and a little dog and big cat. Follow Budding Farmers on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.