I watch a lot of competitive cooking shows (Chopped, Beat Bobby Flay, Next Food Network Star. And Top Chef (Which has been where?! Can anyone please tell me?) In between slicing, dicing and schvitzing, contestants often give loving shout-outs to Mom or Grandma for turning them on to cooking. Kids need to learn to feed themselves, so we’ve gotta teach them to cook. Where to start? How about something simple that doesn’t require sharp knives and fire?
Today’s question comes from a parent who is ready to hand over some kitchen duties to her children.
How can I get my kids to make their own school lunches?
It’s almost back-to-school time and lunches must be made, but not necessarily by you and you alone. So, how can parents effectively get kids to make their own lunch or at least start engaging them in the process? If you think about the developmental stages of childhood, there are many things we do for our kids before stepping back. I’m thinking… teaching kids to feed themselves, get their own drink of water, take themselves to the bathroom, tie own their shoes (Do kids’ shoes even have laces anymore?) We show kids how, we help them while they’re learning, then we sit back and let them do it. Or we should.
So what is the barrier to teaching kids to make their own school lunch?
Our attitude determines how comfortable our kids feel about working in the kitchen vs just showing up to be fed. Do you feel that food prep, cooking, etc. is something your kids should be doing for themselves? If not, then they probably won’t either. Kids are human. I have this on good authority. We tend to be lazy. If someone will do something for me, on a regular basis and to my satisfaction, then why the heck should I bother doing it myself? “I have enough to do,” thinks the child. “I have to wake up on time every morning and brush my teeth and get dressed for school. I have a backpack that needs to be packed and… ”
OK, lots for the tykes to master before they graduate from high school. But let’s not get overwhelmed here. Let’s refocus on the original question about school lunch.
Food is wonderful. So is eating. You can engage kids in the process of making lunch by talking about what they like and don’t like to have for lunch and why. Talk about nutrition and why certain foods are going to help them do their job as a student better than others. Involving kids in the process of shopping for food, prepping food, and even growing food is a great way to start putting them in the driver’s seat. And who knows? They may want to start making their own breakfast soon, too. And after that? They’ll make meals for you!
Before you start, make sure hands are washed and that everything is accessible and at their level. Before they cut anything, make sure you teach your kids the safe way to use cutting tools in the kitchen. It goes without saying that all the utensils you give them are safe for their age-level. OK. I said it anyway.
And make sure you up the fun-ativity quotient from the start. Make food prep fun. (Being in the kitchen with a hypercritical parent is not fun.) Offer lots of praise for progress and back off little by little. You’ll soon hear your child crowing, “Hey, Mom! I made my own lunch!” At which point you offer high-fives all around and say, “Can I have a bite? Mmmm… delicious.”
Remember, we are here to teach our kids to become fully-functioning independent young adults and making your own food is definitely part of being independent. So… what’s for lunch tomorrow?