Family Mealtime For Future Generations

Published by Recently Empty Nested

Allowing, and even encouraging, children to help with family mealtime will instill in them a sense of pride, fond memories, and potentially a desire to carry on the custom in families of their own one day. Here are 7 tips to help make it happen.

I will warn you though, insisting that they do could backfire. So, how do we include them? What kinds of things can they do? And what about the time – what if there is not enough time to let them help? Have no fear, you will find answers and ideas here. Read on…

  • Foster their curiosity. Children often want to copy the things they see their parents do. If a child shows interest, go with it!
  • Encourage pretend play. I haven’t met a child yet who didn’t love to play with a toy kitchen.
  • If you don’t want to spend the money to buy one, you can make one from a cardboard box. Draw some burners on the top and cut out 3 sides of a square on one side of the box that will open and close like an oven door. There are some really cute ideas for making a play kitchen on the internet, too. No play kitchen? It’s alright. Give them a couple of toy pots and pans, and some little plastic cups and plates, and watch their imaginations take over!

    Little girl wearing an apron over a princess dress, complete with chef hat and oven mitt. She is ready to help with family mealtime.

    Meet Lydia, my granddaughter. Like a lot of children, she LOVES to help in the kitchen. Here she is modeling a birthday gift – a new apron, chefs hat and oven mitt – opened just minutes before the picture was taken. You might notice that she is wearing it over a princess dress, also a birthday gift! We teased her about being the Royal Baker. She didn’t get the joke, but we all thought it was funny!

  • Let them help. Helping is different at different ages. When children are very young they don’t even know if they are helping with the real meal, just give them something to do that resembles what they see you do.
  • Children as young as 2 can stand next to you on a stool and stir cheerios around in a bowl. They love to dump things out, have you noticed that? With your supervision let them empty the contents of a can into your recipe (those edges are sharp). They can hold the cookbook, hand you things and be your taste tester.

    When children are a little older they can mix, learn to use a rolling pin, set the table and help keep the counters free of trash and crumbs while you cook. Your getting the idea, right?

  • Make time. It is very true that letting children help do anything makes it take longer, but it is the best way to teach them.
  • If you do not have time to let them help you in the kitchen every day, make time one day a week, or on the weekends. Maybe it is less hectic during breakfast or lunch. Young children don’t usually care what they do, as long as what they do allows them to feel a sense of accomplishment. While visiting our daughter and her family last spring, our granddaughter, then 4 years old, was excited to fix breakfast for us. Grandpa and I took our places at the table while she “fixed” it, then joined us for a yummy bowl of cheerios with milk! She was so proud! We ate, visited and watched out the window at the birds having breakfast from her bird feeder. Family mealtime, what a treat!

    Little girl and her mom play family mealtime with pretend baked goods.

    Our daughter was imaginative when she was a child and nothing has changed. She pretends with her daughters a lot. One of their favorite things to play is “kitchen”, but play is not all they do. My granddaughters have been “helping” in the kitchen since they were old enough to sit in a highchair. Family mealtime is in good hands at her house.

  • Include them in the planning. Let them choose a favorite for family mealtime, and invite them to help you make it. Some children will be more eager to help make something they choose.
  • Eat it! This might be the most important. If your child is 3 and they hand you a playing card and tell you it’s a sandwich, eat it! Pretend to gobble it up, and be sure to mmmm and sigh and tell them how delicious it was. If they offer more, say “yes, please”. It will give them a sense of satisfaction and allow them to experience the joy in providing food for those they love. After all, isn’t that why we do it? If you get an interesting combo of yogurt and carrot sticks, or a jelly sandwich with raisins, eat it! You see where I am going with this, don’t you? One day that breakfast of burned toast too cold to melt the butter, raw brussel sprouts and instant oatmeal floating in water (yes, it really happened) will become bacon and eggs! Trust me! This year for Mother’s Day one of our sons prepared me the most delicious omelet! If we refuse to eat the pretend food, or their best efforts at anything edible, they may give up, and everyone will miss out.
  • Let them surprise you.Our children like to make us happy, and who doesn’t like a good surprise?!
  • If you hear a mess being made in the kitchen by your elementary schooler, peek around the corner to make sure there are no safety concerns, like a child with a sharp knife or contemplating turning on the stove, then return from whence you tippy=toed and await the surprise. When that sloppy PB&J or dish of ice cream with ketchup on it arrives – eat it! Yep, at least some of it, before you kindly say that you are full. Then, after you thank that sweet child, and tell them it was delicious, you can offer to help them clean up any mess they made in the kitchen.

Family mealtime is important, but it can also be a lot of extra work. Shopping, cooking, setting the table…It used to be the way everyone did it because there were few other options. Today our options are practically limitless. We can’t expect family customs to carry on just because we want them to, we need to nurture them. Including our children is one way we can do this, making it most likely that future generations will know the joys of family mealtime too.

Little girl pretends she is ordering food fro family mealtime while grandma wears the play apron and chefs hat.

If you have ideas, fun stories or pictures to share, please do so in the comment section.