8 Ways to Make Meal Prep a Fun Family Activity

Aug 28, 2019

The smiling family gathered around the table, eagerly dishing up heaps of healthy vegetables while I carry a perfectly cooked chicken/turkey/roast to the table, swirls of savory scents filling the air; hair perfectly coiffed; apron tied neatly in the back in a big celebratory bow. That’s the Norman Rockwell picture I envisioned when I set out to start preparing more family meals at home. In reality, meal prep and mealtime are an awkward juggling act, and most nights I consider dinner a success if we make it out alive with everyone happy and fed.

On one hand I’m trying to keep an eye on my toddler—who more often than not seems to be preparing for a career in living room gymnastics—and on the other hand I’m trying to accomplish the seemingly impossible task of preparing a meal that is healthy, appeals to everyone’s varying tastes, and hopefully generates enough for leftovers the next day. Throw in couple of panther-sized cats who circle my feet like they’re getting ready to go in for the kill, and you’ve got a veritable meal prep circus.

So, in the spirit of Family Meals Month, I challenged myself to turn the entire mealtime experience into a fun family activity—in part for my own sanity, but also to teach my son the importance of healthy, balanced meals. Recognizing that I surely don’t have all the answers, I set out to see how other families manage to make meal prep an active part of mealtime.

Here are eight tips and tricks I learned from family and friends about getting kids involved during mealtime:

  1. Pick the fresh groceries
    Meal prep really starts in the store, and so does this list! Put those never-miss-a-thing eyes of your kids to work by having them pick the perfect produce. Whether it’s a potato of just the right size or the oddest shaped apple, let your kids have a say in the ingredients that make it into the cart.

  2. 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.

  3. 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 the 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.

  4. 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.

  5. Tear the lettuce and/or toss the salad
    Admittedly, this one lacks the thrill factor, but even simple lettuce tearing can teach your kiddos 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.

  6. Time the oven
    Am I getting desperate at this point? Quite possibly. The meal is in the oven or on the stove, 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.

  7. 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 side and suggest they have fun with decorations and place settings. Maybe they can create a unique centerpiece or hand draw some placemats. The possibilities are endless.

  8. Garnish the plate
    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. 

Bon Appetite and Happy Prepping, Friends!

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