With most parts of the U.S. more than a month into stay-at-home orders, the initial novelty of spending more quality time with your family is starting to wear off. Maybe you have school-aged kids and are struggling to juggle eLearning while also figuring out a work-from-home routine. Maybe your spouse is an essential worker and has to social distance even when at home so you're left with double parenting duties. Whatever the case may be, there's no doubt that families—parents and kids alike—are having trouble adjusting to a new normal.
And this new normal includes changes to your daily meal routines. Whether you're eating more meals in the home or just have some extra hands to 'help' (and feed), chances are, preparing a meal that is healthy, appeals to everyone’s varying tastes, and uses ingredients you have on hand is more stressful than you remember.
So, in the spirit of taking a sometimes challenging task and turning it into something fun, we've compiled some tips to turn the entire mealtime experience into a fun family activity. Hang in there parents—you've got this!
8 tips and tricks to engage your kids during mealtime:
Pick the recipe Ensure your kiddos are on board for your culinary adventure by letting them pick the recipe. Worried what they might choose? Stack the deck by selecting only recipes you're comfortable with and present them with their options.
Measure the dry ingredients (or live on the edge and measure the wet ingredients, too) Word of warning: kids are messy (as if you didn’t already know). I encourage you to embrace the potential mess that comes from introducing a kid to a bag of flour, a box of rice, or heaven forbid, an egg. It’s the perceived risk that makes this task so exciting. Make a game of it by challenging them to measure ingredients without spilling a drop. If/when it doesn’t work out exactly as planned, cleanup can be part of the game.
Wash the veggies There’s nothing I dread more than scrubbing the dirt from each and every little mushroom. But what we adults might consider mundane is a whole new experience for your little one. Whether you have a scrubber they can use on potatoes or a damp cloth for those pesky mushrooms, making sure every speck is off that piece of produce can become an adventure for them.
Strip the leaves off fresh herbs and/or describe the scent of the spices Whether they’re separating fresh mint leaves from the stem or measuring the dried oregano, this task involves all the senses! Encourage your child(ren) to smell their hands or sniff the spoon and describe the aroma. Is it sweet? Tangy? Earthy? It’s an educational experience for them, and if nothing else, you’ll be entertained by their creative responses.
Tear the lettuce and/or toss the salad Admittedly, this one lacks the thrill factor, but even simple lettuce tearing can teach your kids an important lesson in portion control. No one likes to shove an over-sized bite of lettuce into their mouth, so remind your little helpers that each leaf needs to be just the right size for a bite. This advice will cause them to pay extra close attention to each and every piece they tear and toss.
Time the oven Am I getting desperate at this point? Quite possibly. The meal is in the oven or on the stove, and there’s nothing left to do but wait. So, let’s make the waiting a game! Put one of your kids in charge of the timer and ask them to give you regular updates. Take turns guessing how much time has passed or how much remains. Does it smell ready yet? You get the idea.
Set the table—décor and all! Take your waiting game to a new level by seeing if your kids can set the table before the timer runs out. Have a longer wait? Encourage their creative sides and suggest they have fun with decorations and place settings. They can create a unique centerpiece or hand draw some placemats. The possibilities are endless.
Garnish the plates Whether it’s salt and pepper, fresh parsley, or green onions, have your budding chef(s) round out your plate. A sprinkle of this, a dash of that—encourage your kids to use their new-found herb expertise to put the finishing touch on your meal.