Believe it or not, meal preparation CAN be a positive experience that both you and your kids can greatly benefit from.
Younger kids. Older kids. Even your crazy toddler.
Trying to prepare a meal with a toddler around is not an easy task. In fact, it can be absolutely chaotic. Having a two-year-old pushing his way in between you and the counter one minute, pulling random ingredients like hot sauce, olives and milk out of the fridge the next minute and then finally pulling your shirt down and screaming "up, up, UPPPP" does not make for an enjoyable culinary experience. No...no it makes for a frustrating, verging-on-infuriating experience.
It wasn't until I started including my little guy, in little ways, with the meal prep experience that the kitchen chaos started to subside. I pulled up a stool and started getting him to help me with small tasks such as handing me a wooden spoon, pressing the "on" button on the rice cooker or helping me dump ingredients into a bowl. Did I have to watch him like a hawk? Yes. Was it hilarious? Yes. Was it less stressful? YES! And I know that he is also greatly benefiting from the experience.
When your kids have had a hand in preparing a meal, they are more likely to sit down to family meals (which, in itself, boasts many short-term and long-term benefits) and eat the foods that they have helped prepare. Helping in the kitchen will also boost their self-confidence and sense of accomplishment and helps to develop lifelong cooking skills, not to mention healthier eating habits long-term.
There's no doubt that including your kids in meal preparation will take a little bit more time, perhaps some patience, and a little more clean-up, but the pay-off will be well worth the extra effort.
Here are seven roles that your kids can take on in the kitchen. Some are appropriate for younger children and some for older children.
Sit down once a week as a family—I would suggest a weekend when everyone is home—to discuss what you're going to prepare for the week ahead. You can plan all meals and snacks, or start with just suppers. Have your child give his or her input for every meal, ensuring that they are tasty, balanced and nutritious. Put your child (or children) in charge of writing the day's supper menu on a whiteboard or blackboard in the kitchen for everyone to see the night before.
Have your child accompany you to the grocery store and lead the way. They will be in charge of the grocery list and making sure that all of the proper ingredients are purchased. They will also help to bring the groceries into the house, organize them and store them in the proper place (fridge, freezer or pantry).
This was always my favorite chore as a kid. I loved setting the table. Have your child set the table before your family meal. Include placemats, all necessary cutlery, glasses for water or milk, and plates if you will be serving dinner at the table. To make it fun, get your kids to create homemade place-cards for each person in the family.
Your child will feel a real sense of inclusion in the meal preparation process if she or he is able to read the recipe out loud while you're cooking and pass you the ingredients as you need them. They will get a sense of which foods work well together and will allow them to feel comfortable with recipes in general. She or he will also practice their reading skills!
This is the ultimate kitchen-helper's job. Your child will be your right-hand-man (or woman) during the entire cooking or baking process. You can get them to hand you ingredients as you need them, mix ingredients together, crack eggs, sprinkle herbs and spices, chop vegetables, and taste-test the dish that they had a hand in creating.
Let your older child take over! Let them choose the meal, write the grocery list, gather the ingredients and literally prepare the meal start to finish (with your help of course). Offer to be your child's "sous-chef" and offer help or guidance when needed, but other than that, step aside and enjoy the time off! If your child is unsure what to make, suggest easier-to-prepare meals to start such as gourmet grilled cheese or spaghetti.
This is where your child helps portion out each dish onto everyone's plate, fill water or milk glasses, and then help to clear the table when everyone is finished, help to rinse plates and load them into the dishwasher.
Have your child or children rotate through roles to add variety to their kitchen experiences. Make it fun—this can be a great way to bond with your kids and catch up on their day. Both you and your children will benefit greatly from making your kitchen a family-friendly place where everyone has a hand in creating healthy and tasty meals.
I have heard rumors about this "Mom Formula" over the past year or so, but never thought that a company would actually release a product that would encourage grown and capable women and mothers to trade in real foods for, well, formula. This baffles me. I get it—life is busy and it's hard to always eat balanced, healthy meals and snacks and make sure to get all of your nutrients in every day. I also get that if you are pregnant, you want the best for your growing baby—you want him or her to receive all of the nutrients possible in-utero and develop properly, both physically and neurologically.
Unfortunately, Similac went ahead and created a product that promises all of this and more. In fact, it promises to "help develop baby's brain, bones and vision while at the same time keeping Mom healthy and happy during pregnancy and breastfeeding." So, not only will your baby be as healthy as can be, but you, as the mom, will also be healthy and HAPPY!
I sure as hell would not be happy if I was drinking formula.
This product has 42 ingredients (if I counted correctly on the label), several of which most people could not pronounce. It also contains 31 grams of carbohydrates (all of which are from sugar)—equivalent to almost 8 teaspoons worth, which, in a 235 mls serving, is almost equivalent to the amount of sugar in a 355 mls can of regular coke. Yep, it's like drinking vitamin, mineral and Omega-3-fortified coke.
Although I feel strongly that breastfeeding is the best way to nourish your baby, I am not opposed to infant formula. In fact, I had to supplement my little guy with the stuff for the second half of his first year of life. It was essential to my baby's health, and for that, I'm thankful to have had access to it. What I don't agree with though, is targeting vulnerable, tired, otherwise healthy and capable women, making them think that the only way their baby will receive proper nutrition, and therefore develop properly, is to consume this god-awful beverage. I also don't appreciate the fact that the marketing for this "Mom-Formula" suggests that this product will make them "happy." I translate this marketing message into "it's nearly impossible for you to feed your growing baby properly on your own, and let's face it, making healthy meals and snacks is just too much work for you, so don't you worry, here's your answer to both of your problems." Ugh, give me a freaking break.
Let's quickly run through all of the key nutrients that Similac highlights in this product (all of which are essential for a healthy pregnancy and healthy infant development):
Protein: You can receive protein from several foods in our food supply, including meats, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, soy products, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds.
Iron: You can find iron in meats, poultry, fish, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, eggs, fortified whole grain products, certain vegetables AND in your prenatal multivitamin. If you are eating plant-based food sources of iron, it is important to also consume foods that are high in vitamin C to help with absorption. It's easy. If you have vegetarian chili, have an orange for dessert.
Calcium: You can find calcium in milk, yogurt, cheese and non-milk alternatives such as soy milk, almond milk etc. You will also likely receive approximately 300 mg of calcium per day from other non-dairy foods in your diet and if you are taking a pre-natal multivitamin (which you should be), you will receive another (approximately) 300 mg. If, for some reason you are still not getting your 1200mg per day, you can take an additional calcium supplement.
Vitamin D: It is nearly impossible to consume enough Vitamin D from food unless you're drinking a lot of milk and eating a tonne of fish. That's why I usually suggest to everyone in Canada to take a Vitamin D supplement, regardless if they are pregnant or not. Pre-natal multivitamins contain approximately 200-400 international units (IU) already, so if you take a 400 IU-1000 IU on top of that, you're getting enough.
Folic Acid: If you are diligently taking your pre-natal multi-vitamin, you're receiving enough folic acid for the health of your baby. If you are also consuming fruits and vegetables on a regular basis, as well as fortified grain products (which I assume most of you are), you're getting plenty of this important B-Vitamin.
Omega-3: Omega-3 fatty acid is very important for the growth and development of baby's brain, nervous system and eyes, especially in the first trimester. It's important that you consume two servings of oily, low-mercury fish per week, such as salmon, light flaked tuna, halibut, trout etc. OR that you take a daily Omega-3 supplement (especially in your first trimester) that contains approximately 500-1000 mg of DHA and EPA combined to receive enough Omega-3.
What I'm saying, is that if you eat a fairly balanced, healthy diet with sources of lean protein, healthy fats, fruits and veggies and whole grains most of the time, and take your pre-natal multivitamin, vitamin D (and maybe your Omega-3) supplements, you are doing what you need to do nutrition-wise to grow a healthy baby. If you are feeling nauseous in your pregnancy and you just can't stomach most foods, try a smoothie with yogurt, milk, fruit and oats. This seems a lot more appealing to me than a bottle of formula. How about you?