Mealtimes and eating are such an integral part of life, but how many 18 year olds go to college stumped by making even a basic plate of spaghetti? A big part of being independent (and being healthy) is being able to feed yourself, yet moms often feel like they need to 'do it all' and take on the role of cook and cleaner in the family.
No one wants their kids to grow up without the skills to look after themselves, but at the same time you don't expect a five-year-old to be toiling away in the kitchen making dinner, right? Womensforum talked to developmental-behavioral pediatrician Dr. Adiaha Franklin of Texas Children's Hospital about when kids can start helping out in the kitchen, and the appropriate tasks they are mentally and physically able to accomplish.
Parents should first model and describe the behavior they would like their child to imitate. Dr. Franklin says, "For example, a parent could say, 'See, Daddy put a cup in front of each chair'” or 'Help Mommy put the dirty spoons in the sink.'"
Kids as young as three years old can start helping out in the kitchen with extremely simple tasks, such as setting the table, throwing away empty food containers or putting dirty cups on the counter.
By the time a child is four years old, he or she should be able to make a simple meal like a bowl of cereal or a PB&J sandwich. Motor skills have developed enough that, depending on the heaviness, a typical four year old can put drink containers on the table as well as condiments.
Kids at this age also have the mental capabilities to start helping choose items for the dinner menu, which gives them a significant role and makes them feel like an important member of the family.
This is a good time to have them play a role in making the dinner. Prego® has a great recipe for White Chicken Pizza that would be perfect for a small child to play sous chef. They can put the toppings on and watch you put it in the oven.
Dr. Franklin says, "By this age, children enjoy helping with chores because their gross motor skills and hand-eye coordination have improved, so a four-year-old may actually enjoy helping to sweep the kitchen."
Dr. Franklin says, "By age five, a typically-developing child is fairly independent.
They can brush their own teeth, dress independently, decide what they would like to eat for an after-school snack and begin to use the microwave or toaster with adult supervision."
"[Six-year-olds] can help put away left-overs, help select the menu, help load the dishwasher and help sweep the floor or clean off the table." - Dr. Franklin
At this age, a five-year-old can get more involved in clean-up after mealtimes. These kids can help rinse dishes (Dr. Franklin recommends using a stool or chair for support and have an adult adjust the water temperature). They have the capability to put clean dishes away and clean off the table after mealtimes.
By the time kids are six years old, expect them to know their way around the kitchen! In addition to more skills with kitchen appliances, Dr. Franklin says, "They can help put away left-overs, help select the menu, help load the dishwasher, and help sweep the floor or clean off the table."
From there, it's up to you which recipes you start to teach them! Begin with starter recipes like the White Chicken Pizza we mentioned and then slowly work your way up to something more direction-laden like Prego®'s Italian-Style Sloppy Joes. This recipe is perfect because it is delicious, easy to make and is supposed to look a bit messy.
Working on recipes kids like to eat will create great memories for kids now and teach them how to make yummy food they can enjoy their whole lives.
Trust us, maybe not now, but your kids will thank you for teaching them how to look after themselves!
For more dinnertime recipes, visit Womensforum's "Mealtime, Family Time" Pinterest page.