Eat Smart Idaho at University of Idaho Extension
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Child-Friendly Tips

Children feel important and involved when you include them in meal planning.

  • Let them help you make a list of easy, inexpensive, nutritious recipes that you all like. Include these recipes in your menu.
  • Write down the children's activities so you can plan and prepare simple meals on busy nights.
  • Write down school lunch meals if the kids eat lunch at school.
  • Ask the kids to search the pantry, refrigerator and freezer for meal ingredients. Add missing items to the shopping list.

Saving time and money at the store is a valuable life skill.

You can teach beginning shopping skills to young children and advance to more difficult skills as your children age.

  • Allow young children to choose between two foods such as green or purple grapes.
  • Help them select a new fruit or vegetable to try.
  • Have older children look at unit prices.
  • Let them help you read and compare food labels. For example, among cereals that are within your food budget, ask them to find the one with the most fiber.
  • Ask children to help you put food away when you get home.

Children love to learn cooking skills.

Children are more likely to eat foods they have helped prepare. Follow these guidelines to keep your child safe in the kitchen:

  • Supervise children during all cooking activities.
  • Tie back long hair and loose clothing.
  • Use child-safe equipment such as plastic bowls and blunt knives.
  • Use sturdy stools so smaller children can reach the counters.

Tasks children may be able to perform at different ages

3–4 years
  • Get out and put away groceries
  • Get out pans or tools
  • Set table
  • Wash fruits and vegetables
  • Tear salad greens
  • Knead and shape dough
  • Put things in trash
5–6 years
  • Tasks for 3- to 4-year-olds with less supervision
  • Peel vegetables
  • Measure ingredients
  • Make sandwiches, pancakes or scrambled eggs
  • Set and clear the table
  • Load the dishwasher
7–10 years
  • Tasks for 5- to 6-year-olds with less supervision
  • Cut ingredients
  • Make simple recipes
  • Put ready-to-cook food into the oven and turn it on
  • Mix frozen concentrated fruit juice
  • Help plan meals

Ask older children to cook one night per week. Plan around their other activities.

Children who live in families that frequently eat together have a lot going for them.

These children:

  • Eat more fruits and vegetables and get a wider variety of nutritious foods.
  • Have a lower risk of obesity and eating disorders.
  • Are better able to manage negative emotions.
  • Get better grades, develop larger vocabularies and are more likely to graduate from high school.
  • Are less likely to use marijuana, alcohol and tobacco.

If you already eat with your family most days of the week, continue the habit and enjoy your time together. If not, set a goal to gradually increase the number of times you eat as a family.

Tips for family meals:

  • Plan ahead. See Plan Smart for a step-by-step guide to meal planning.
  • Schedule meals when everyone is available. Family meals can be at breakfast, lunch and/or dinner.
  • Ask children for help with setting the table and cleaning up.
  • Turn off the television, radio, and mobile devices. Focus on the family and the meal.
  • Talk to each other pleasantly. Share good things that have happened and plan future activities. Discuss the day’s successes, current events and upcoming activities. Save discipline and difficult subjects for another time.
  • Continue family time after dinner by taking a walk, playing at the park or having a game night.
  • Model healthy choices. Offer foods from at least three food groups and let everyone see you enjoying healthy meals. Try a new fruit, vegetable or recipe to introduce your family to a variety of healthy foods.
  • Encourage and model good manners. Passing food politely, using napkins and not speaking while chewing make meal time more pleasant. Say nice things to each other.