ONE OF THE FONDEST memories I have from being out for summer break when I was a child is cooking alongside my parents, since I no longer had homework demands. Both of my parents are great cooks, and they shared their skills with me – from picking out the best tomato to grilling a perfectly seasoned burger. Food, and its preparation, were major parts of my summer breaks, and the lessons I learned stayed with me.
Whether your kids are hanging out at home or in day camps this summer, there is usually more opportunity to linger around mealtime. That’s something that is worth taking advantage of to help kids begin to develop lifelong skills in the kitchen and connect around the dinner table.
Here are some ways you can do that:
Learn about local food.
There’s no better place to learn about local foods than a farmers market. You’ll find seasonal produce, farm fresh eggs and meats from nearby farms. It’s a wonderful place to talk to farmers and learn about fresh, local flavors.
Wendy Jo Peterson, culinary nutritionist and coauthor of “Mediterranean Diet Cookbook For Dummies” and “Born to Eat: Whole, Healthy Foods from Baby’s First Bite,” says one of her favorite resources for families is the U.S. Department of Agriculture website LocalHarvest. This website directs consumers to farms and farmers markets in their area. Visiting a local market can provide a great opportunity to let kids taste, touch and smell new foods without the pressure to eat what’s on their plate. Being adventurous with food, begins with exploring and trying new things.
Read about value.
Each week our family receives numerous grocery store mailings with weekly deals and specials. It’s not uncommon for me to pass the fliers to my daughter and have her pick out some items that she may want to try or put on the grocery list.
Using sale fliers can help families get ideas for meals while learning about budgeting and value. For example, when a local store has ground beef or chicken breasts on sale, we stock up and pop the extra in our freezer. When the receipt shows how much money we saved, I discuss it with my daughter and talk to her about how saving on groceries helps us put that money to use in another place in our family budget.
Keeping receipts over the summer and letting kids add up the savings helps improve math and budgeting skills. It’s become a fun challenge for my daughter.
Plan family meals.
Once a week we sit down and talk about the meals so we can make a grocery list. Using the sale fliers can help, but many times I have my daughter assist with an inventory. We check what items we have in the freezer and pantry before we get started so we can use what we already have on hand. If we have chicken and pork chops, we can start our menu plan by building around those foods.
Not only does planning meals help reduce food waste, it provides valuable learning around balance, cooking strategies and creatively using leftovers.
Teach age-appropriate kitchen skills.
Sometimes getting “help” from a child in the kitchen increases the time and mess, but it’s definitely worth it. From stirring to measuring to setting the table, there’s a task for everyone.
When parents include children in food preparation, kids can learn very early about a variety of foods and that getting food on the table isn’t just a one-person job. One family member may do most of the shopping and cooking, but everyone needs these life skills.
When meal planning, think of tasks kids can help with (as well as other adults), and pencil those in. You’ll want to consider what tasks are age-appropriate, like allowing toddlers to squeeze lemons and limes and use a plastic juicer with minimal assistance and letting 6- and 7-year-olds use measuring spoons and form evenly sized patties, among other examples suggested by the Kids Cook Monday initiative.
Take the time to savor.
Sitting down to have a meal together provides nourishment and connection. If we have a little more time in the summer to savor it all, everyone can benefit. From having the kids plan, prep and put away the dishes to conversations about summer fun and new flavors, these lessons in savoring the moment could last a lifetime.