Little kitchen helpers

GOOD SENSE eatingLooking for opportunities to spend quality time with your child? Consider meal prep as a chance to create lifelong memories—and dinner while you’re at it.

Why kids in the kitchen?

n Children who learn to cook are more likely to sample the food they have a hand in preparing. How can we expect children to follow healthy eating messages when we don’t teach basic cooking skills?

n Culinary education helps children get in touch with the food supply. They learn about the benefits of local, sustainable farming, as well as what’s in season.

n Families often discover they all tend to eat healthier when the children learn to cook.

n Planning, shopping and preparing a meal with you provides a sense of accomplishment and confidence for your child.

n Early exposure to cooking sets the stage for a lifetime of feeling at ease around food preparation—and less reliance on convenience foods.

By the ages

Preschool years. Little ones have a natural curiosity about their world and love to help. At this age, allow them to stir cool mixtures like pudding, rinse and tear lettuce leaves and slice bananas. They can even set the table.

Kindergarten–grade 2. In addition to the above, children this age can rinse vegetables, shuck corn, snap green beans, grate cheese, crack eggs, open cans, measure ingredients, mix and shake.

Grades 3–6. Under supervision, they are ready to learn how to use small appliances such as microwaves and blenders, carefully chop vegetables and use the oven. They can follow recipes and even practice math skills when adjusting yields.

Mealtime strategies

Spending time in the kitchen with your child allows you to chat about the day and work as a team. It’s also a good time to discuss and model good food safety techniques. For example, hand washing, scrubbing fruits with a rind before cutting into them and avoiding cross contamination from cutting boards can become second nature to them.

Wheaton resident Diane Galo fondly remembers learning from her own mother and encourages her three girls to help out in age-appropriate tasks."They are always bugging me to help,” she says. Her 10- and 8-year-old help tear lettuce and wash fruit. They even clean up by clearing and wiping the table and loading the dishwasher. Her 5-year-old pours and stirs ingredients and fights to use the salad spinner.

Nutrition lessons are easy to digest while cooking. Rather than talking about vitamins and fats, explain how nourishing whole foods make their body do wonderful things.

Taking lessons

Cooking classes are springing up all over the Chicago area, including the DuPage Children’s Museum in Naperville. Dietitian Sue Rainey collaborates with the early childhood program coordinator for the Makin’ Munchies program."It’s a fun hands-on program for 2- to 4-year-olds that provides simple cooking and tasting experiences integrating math, science and art,” she says. Rainey says colorful foods, seasonal foods or multicultural foods may provide inspiration. Cooking terms and utensils are introduced. The children measure and stir (and sometimes experiment) following age-appropriate one- or two-step recipes.

Make meal time a fun learning experience by getting your little ones involved in all aspects of food prep. Hands-on kitchen experience—where they actually touch, feel, smell and taste—is the basis for learning about one of the greatest joys of life. Not only will they gain an appreciation of where their meals come from, they’ll learn vital life skills while getting a chance to connect and feel loved.

Kids Kiwifruit Cone


Prep time: 10 minutes

  • 6 ice cream cones, cake style
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate morsels, melted according to package directions
  • 3 ZESPRI green kiwifruit, peeled, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup strawberries, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup bananas, sliced and diced

    Dip rim of each ice cream cone into melted chocolate. Spread interior of ice cream cones with remaining melted chocolate. Set in cool area at least 10 minutes, until firm.

    Ice cream cones may be made in advance.

    Mix kiwifruit, strawberries and bananas in medium bowl. Mound fruit mixture into ice cream cones. Serve immediately. Makes 6 servings

    Nutrition information per serving: 150 calories, 2g protein, 25g carbohydrate, 7g fat, 4g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 5mg cholesterol, 2g fiber, 40mg sodium. Excellent source of Vitamin C. 1/2 cup of fruit mixture is equivalent to one serving of fruit. Recipe courtesy of ZESPRI Kiwifruit,

    Dear Good Sense Eating

    Grocery shopping is torture with my kids. Is there a way I can make it into a learning experience for them so they aren’t driving me crazy?

    Kerry Z., Plainfield

    Shop only when everyone is fed and rested. If your child is old enough to read, give him a shopping list and let him help you find needed items. Practice math skills when determining how many pieces of fruit the family needs for the week or how many servings a roast might provide. Older children can be taught how to read the Nutrition Facts labels to compare what’s a better nutritional buy.

    Christine M. Palumbo is on the board of directors of the American Dietetic Association. She has many fond memories of cooking with her mother, especially Greek avgolemono soup. Contact her at

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