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Glendalyn Fodra on How to Help Your Child Grow with Family Meals

Busy schedules and tight time frames can make any parent hesitant in involving their children in cooking family meals. It's far more comfortable and faster for the parents or guardians to make it all themselves, but allowing your child to help has more benefits than many people realize. As a Filipino mother of two, Glendalyn Fodra has plenty of experience in a crowded kitchen and believes food culture plays an important role in the family dynamic, especially concerning children.

Here are Glendalyn Fodra’s nine ways children of any age can grow and mature when helping prepare family meals.

Glendalyn Fodra Shares How to Help Your Child Grow with Family Meals


1. Becoming Familiar with Counting, Measuring, and Reading
        
Some parents start bringing their child into the kitchen as early as three years old. While toddlers will probably not be handling knives, they can become aware of all of the numbers and letters surrounding them. Counting the needed ingredients for a dish is a great way to engage numbers in a fun way for your child. Better yet, they begin to learn things are measured and how measurements work in recipes. Soon ounces, pounds, and kilograms will be understood and used in the child's life. Another great tip, when working with younger children, is showing them words for food while cooking or shopping. Pointing out the letters in the word 'apple' and then showing the child the real apple, helps form connections between words and what they mean.


2. Cleaning up

Many parents do not allow their children into the kitchen because of the various dangers. Children are also master mess makers, but this can gradually change. After a child helps with dinner, the dishes and kitchen will need to be tidied up. Explaining to the child that it's best to clean after making a mess, can build a strong foundation of tidiness and organization. When working with more complicated meals, many cooks find it best to 'clean up as you go.' If not, dishes can get out of control, and one can be left without counter space. This rule can be an even better lesson for children because it trains them to deal with big problems bit by bit, instead of waiting until things become overwhelming.


3. Healthy Food Choices

Glendalyn Fodra, being a physical therapist for over twenty-five years, knows that healthy eating habits should be taught early on. In an age of fast and processed food, this can be a daunting task. Luckily, cooking a nice homemade meal every once in a while can make things a lot easier. It can even spark some good habits in your child. For example, making a simple loaf of bread from scratch doesn't require many ingredients. All of the ingredients can easily be pronounced and understood. Then when buying a typical loaf from the supermarket, any child can see the difference between the bread from home and the store by looking at the ingredients label. The bread made at home didn't require near as much sugar as the one from the store. Pointing out this difference can help your child become more aware of their food choices. Of course, most people don't have time to make their bread, but teaching children about a balanced diet will help them in the future. Explaining the nutritiousness of each ingredient builds the connection in the child's mind between food and what it does for the body. Enjoying pizza one night, and chicken and steamed veggies, the next can eventually be understood in the child as balancing their diet and the goodness of variety. These ideas may seem like a big task to explain to a child at first. There are so many things to explore, but children are naturally curious. They will ask plenty of questions if they are allowed to help, paving their path to good food choices.


4. Encourages Children to Try New Things

Picky eaters can be a massive frustration to any caregiver. However, children who help prepare family meals are more likely to try what they worked so hard to create. The dish may become their new favorite. Even if the children don't like it, they can be encouraged to try the next meal they help make, or even a new sport or activity later in their lives.


5. Patience

Watching a child spend ten minutes dicing an onion when an adult can do it in one, can be a painful experience. The child may even give up and want to go and play something else. It's essential to encourage the child to keep trying; not force, but reassure that finishing the task will be worth it. Cooking with children teaches patience to both the caregivers and the little ones. Long-time chefs know that excellent meals can't be rushed. Parents explaining this as the children wait for the oven timer to beep, or for the dough to rise can help the little ones understand that many of life's beautiful things take time and energy.


6. Sharing

Sharing anything, whether it be toys, crayons, or stickers, can be difficult for young children. This is especially true for toddlers. However, when a child is expected to help prepare a family meal for the whole family, they know it will be eaten and shared. Seeing the smiles and receiving compliments from family members about the meal can give the child a better understanding of sharing and why it is good to do.


7. Working with groups and Communication

Cooking a dish with multiple people requires frequent communication on what is happening and what still needs work. This may be difficult at first with smaller children, but tweens and teenagers can benefit from this. It puts children in a group setting, each with their responsibilities, but with the intent of putting the meal together. While the food on the stove is sizzling and the batter is mixed, the team needs to communicate what they need, what's ready, and even where they need to go if the kitchen is small. If the dish is complex, or the task the child is given is unfamiliar, it should be encouraged by the caretakers for the child to ask for help. Asking for help is a skill that some adults still don't know how to do, or think is unnecessary. No one can do everything by themselves so people, especially children, should know that they should ask for assistance if they need it. It's skills like these that become vital as the child grows.


8. Healthy Curiosity and Creativity

As the child advances to doing more laborious tasks in the kitchen and even making meals all by themselves, they probably know to follow the recipe. If they make the dish enough times, and it turns out well, they can be encouraged to mix up the recipe a bit. Allow them to experiment with other vegetables, herbs, spices, to make the meal more of their own. This ties with trying new things. Trying new foods, meals from different cultures, and putting a twist on old recipes can assist in developing a creative mindset. Some attempts will fail, and that is fine. The child should be reassured that it's okay to make mistakes and should evaluate what they have learned from the experience.


9. Developing Life Skills and Responsibility

Cooking is a valuable life skill that, unfortunately, many children don't appreciate until they move out. Knowing how to make at least basic meals at home can save them a lot of money down the road. It also can instill a sense of pride that they can take care of themselves. They know how to safely handle and work with cooking tools which can bring peace of mind to parents and caregivers. The sense of responsibility that comes from cooking can aid children as well and help them grow and mature. Children can be tasked to make dinner for the family once a week, or older siblings can occasionally prepare something for the younger siblings after school. It's tasks like these that build good work ethic in children.


While it may not be visible in the first few times, the child helps to prepare the family meal, these new ideas and skills build over the years. They can lead to so many wonderful experiences. Families can bond with this practice intact, and the children are left with skills that will benefit them throughout their entire lives.


About Glendalyn Fodra:
Glendalyn Fodra is a physical therapist, loving mother, and caring wife who enjoys helping others and spending quality time with friends and family. She is known for her leadership and strong work ethics, but she devotes all of her free time to caring for her family and socializing with other Filipino families in Tennessee.


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