A Family Tradition: The Benefits of Cooking & Eating Together

As early childhood educators, we empathize with the never ending responsibilities and pressure to “get it all right” when it comes to parenting.   You have a full plate, always feeling like you are adding new things to it and pushing some things off to the side.   Rather than suggesting one more thing to squeeze onto your plate, enjoy what’s already there…quite literally, your food!  Eating as a family can have lifelong benefits. Studies have shown that children who have regular family meals have higher self-esteem, healthier eating habits and lower rates of eating disorders.

Not many things in a child’s life are more meaningful to them then spending time with their parents.  A sense of stability and belonging stems from strong family relationships.  What’s a better time to connect then over a delicious meal?  We all have to eat, whether it’s take out, frozen food or a home cooked meal. Of course, we would all love to have a home cooked meal every day but with modern day families, that isn’t always possible. With long commutes from work, after school sports, meetings and more, we can’t be hard on ourselves if we come home with boxes of Chinese or frozen Annie’s.   The food you’re eating is not the topic of discussion, but rather taking the time for authentic family engagement.  No phones, television, or gadgets… just good ‘ole human conversations.

Families come in many styles and sizes, and dedicating time to each other over a meal strengthens each family member.  For children, it provides practice in manners, language and conversation skills, the opportunity to see adults trying new food (and hopefully trying new food themselves), making independent food choices, fine motor skills and the ability to sit for a longer duration while eating.  As adults, it is hard to resist the urge to fill children’s plates, but allowing them to make choices with what is provided eliminates those power struggles that we all wish to avoid at the end of a hard day.   For children and adults, it provides a time to reflect and share moments of our day, give thanks, value each other’s point of view and the opportunity for teamwork.

The sense of being “a team” motivates people to provide for the greater good. Opportunities for teamwork during meal time can include table settings, clean up and if you can find the time…. food preparation and cooking. Believe it or not, three and four year olds are capable of many skills adults may deem dangerous or too hard for children (View the list below for ideas on how to get children involved in cooking).  Many children ages three to five years old are excited to contribute to the team, joining in on household tasks.

If you find it hard to prioritize family meals, start with one to two meals a week until you feel you can manage more time during the week.   Try beginning a tradition, “Pancake Saturday” or “Sunday Funday Brunch” to initiate those warm and fuzzy memories of family.  Remember, “Taco Time Tuesday” may not be a home cooked meal, but it will be a bonding experience that is remembered for a lifetime.

How to get children involved in cooking:
Three-year-olds

  • Pouring liquids into batter
  • Mixing batter or other dry and wet ingredients together
  • Shaking liquid in a closed container
  • Spreading butters or toppings
  • Kneading dough
  • Washing vegetables and fruit
  • Putting things in the trash after cooking or after a meal
  • Sifting or straining

Four- and Five-year-olds

  • Juicing fruits
  • Peeling some fruits and vegetables
  • Mashing soft fruits and vegetables
  • Scrubbing vegetables
  • Cutting soft foods with table knives
  • Pressing cookie cutters
  • Measuring ingredients
  • Cracking open/breaking eggs
  • Beating eggs with an egg beater
  • Making toast
  • Setting the table
  • Wiping up after cooking
  • Clearing the table after a meal

Best,

Katherine
Family Empowerment Coordinator
katherine@tinytrees.org

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