Meal Preparation Participation Encourages a Healthy Relationship with Food
My girls love to cook! And I love to include them! Part of my objective to teach my children healthy eating as well as maintain my own healthy lifestyle is to cook as much of our own food as possible. Including toddlers in healthy meal prep has tremendous benefits for you and your children.
Including the girls teaches them about food preparation and gives them the skills they need to develop a healthy relationship with cooking and food. Learning healthy eating from parent modeling is more likely to imprint on a child and help them carry healthy eating habits into adulthood.
Watching and helping prepare food allows children to identify where a specific food comes from or the original form of food. If my children see me add their favorite ingredients to a mix or soup then they are more likely to try it, even if the final result is something they haven’t tried before.
Prepping meals ahead of time ensures that I can serve nutritious meals to the girls and their Dad before the h-anger sets in and we order something reminiscent of my pregnancy craving days.
I use recipes that are simple, healthy, and easily transported for car rides and walks to the park. Having healthy food they want to and can easily eat on excursions makes out-of-house activities much easier and less stressful for me. It also prevents us from spending extra money on fast food and consuming less-than-healthy options that are easily available.
Tips for Including Toddlers in Healthy Meal Prep
Tip 1: Keep the Recipes Simple
If a recipe has more than 5 steps and 10 ingredients, it can be difficult to make with hungry toddlers looming, waiting to make a mess. Daily, or when prepping meals for the entire week, simple and easy increases the chances of being able to serve nutritious meals. If the recipe takes too long and has too many steps, this means more mess from the explorative toddler and potentially, a loss of interest.
I am a lazy cook- but don’t want to skimp on nutrition. If I keep my recipes simple and quick, I am much more likely to keep up with preparing our home-made meals.
TIP 2: Use Child Safe Recipes
Sometimes I think that my children only like to eat things that they know they shouldn’t eat.
Another key component of meal prepping with toddlers is involving them in the recipes that won’t hurt them if they are consumed before cooked or finished. That way if they eat something that looks interesting, it won’t make them sick. I often replace eggs with applesauce or Greek yogurt for this reason.
Applesauce also removes the need to add processed sugar to baking recipes. Greek yogurt adds creaminess and extra protein.
For each egg, 1/4 cup applesauce can be added with an extra 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder.
As another alternative, add a 1/4 cup of Greek yogurt for each egg.
TIP 3: Make Meal Prep a Motor Skill Building Activity
Toddlers and babies love exploring their environment and are usually thrilled to get to try out their rapidly developing motor skills.
A key to involving toddlers in meal prep is making the food and containers interesting for them. My toddlers are at an age where they are exploring textures and smells. They love stirring their recipes as well as pouring things between containers.
To promote this exploration I usually pre-measured ingredients and place them in different sized, non-breakable containers for my girls to pour into mixing bowls.
Once things are cooked or prepared, I allow the girls to help me put things in their storage containers. They may not be as pretty and orderly as I would have made them myself, but it gets the girls involved and encourages them to eat the healthy food they’ve prepared. It also gives them a chance to explore different tools from the kitchen such as tongs, ladles, and spatulas.
Tip 4: Use Colorful Recipes
A great way to ensure that you are getting all the nutrients you need from your food is to have a wide variety of colors on your plate. For example, you can have purple cabbage, dark green kale, orange sweet potatoes, blueberries. Not only are these foods nutritious, but they also look beautiful!
If you get your children interested in the colors of foods early on and can healthily introduce colors, maybe they won’t find those brightly colored candy wrappers in the checkout line as interesting. (Here’s hoping anyway.)
One of my girls’ favorite activities with colors is dyeing eggs. Really simple but they LOVE it! And, it gives us nutritious eggs for snacks and meals for the rest of the week. Click here for our recipe: Rainbow Hard-Boiled Eggs.
Tip 5: Let Your Children Shop with You
If this is an option, I highly recommend it. With COVID-19, I haven’t actually stepped into the grocery store in months. Yay ClickList. This can also become a disaster if the toddler has expensive taste or gets a little too handsy with everything.
However, ingredient shopping is a great way to get your child excited about what you’re about to cook. Let them look at everything and pick out a few new foods they’d like to try. I recommend limiting this exploration to the produce area. I explain to my girls that it’s their turn to pick when we hit the fruits and vegetables.
This can lead to some exciting, off the wall recipes you may have never tried before. Or maybe you’ll find out that your kids’ favorite food really is potatoes.
Tip 6: Use Other Mediums to Encourage Food Exploration
Another option for getting the kids involved and interested in healthy food is to take cues from their favorite TV shows or books. With COVID-19 happening, many children are getting more TV time. Use it! If they see a character cooking, look up a recipe for it and get them cooking!
Sing the annoying song to go with it! Always a great motivator. Well in all honesty my kids yell at me if I sing the song, but Spotify is a great tool!
Thanks for reading! If you want help with a recipe to make it healthier and toddler friendly, leave a comment or sign up for our mailing list. Hope this article makes including your toddlers in healthy meal prep a little easier.
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