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How to Foster Your Children’s Interest in Cooking and Food

Many of us are facing new challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our homes now serve as classroom, daycare and office. This means that lines between home life and work life are blurred and roles–parent, partner, employee, teacher, therapist, coach–are messy. As much as we may try to set boundaries within our homes, kids may struggle more with the concept of these intangible lines than adults do. Let’s all admit: we’re struggling with them too!

When our kids see us at home, regardless of what we’re doing, they may fall into the pattern of looking to us to prepare their meals and snacks. What better opportunity to start teaching your children to prep their own snacks and, depending on their age, even their own meals than now?  These simple tasks can cultivate responsibility and your child can take ownership in what they create. 

We’ve a few ideas for snacks that, depending on age, your child may be able to put together entirely on their own or with a little supervision. With these tasks, they can learn the value of meal prepping, how to wash produce, basic knife skills, safety around hot items, and ultimately, know how to put together a healthy snack.

Sliced Banana: Bananas are a great soft food for your little ones to gain experience in  peeling and learning knife skills. The slices can be turned into little nut butter “Oreos” by simply adding your favorite nut butter in between two banana slices. Freeze them for later for a healthier dessert!

Yogurt Parfaits: In a pinch, your child can add sliced bananas or apples, berries, and granola or cereal to plain yogurt. This is a great opportunity to teach your child to measure out foods: offer measuring cups so that they can practice pouring and measuring. 

Smoothies: Smoothies provide a perfect lesson in meal prepping as your children can easily prep, portion, and store smoothie ingredients in about twenty minutes. Your kids can prepare fruits or vegetables by washing, cutting, and bagging them. Store the baggies in the freezer so that when it’s time to make the smoothie, all they have to do is add the ingredients to a blender and push a button. Smoothies are also an easy outlet for creativity: offer up a variety of fruits (mango, berries, bananas, peaches), vegetables (spinach, carrots, kale), liquids (almond milk, coconut milk, Greek yogurt), and other fun ingredients like nut butters, ginger, and cinnamon. Encourage your kids to choose at least one item from each group. This is also an excellent way to use up fresh fruit or vegetables that are going bad.

Veggies and Dip: From single-ingredient dips to multi-layered and blended dips, you can go as simple or complex as you’d like. Keep it easy by keeping baby carrots or pre-cut veggies handy with store-bought dips like hummus, salsa, or guacamole. Or take advantage of your time at home by teaching your older kids how to cut veggies they enjoy, such as celery, carrots, or bell peppers. Then explore Zipongo’s Snack recipes together and let them choose a dip they’re excited about. Our Creamy Spinach Dips is a hit with both parents and kids. Your older kids will be empowered to put this together all on their own. 

Hummus: Your kids can learn how to use a food processor, measure ingredients, and be creative with flavors. Adding ingredients like red bell pepper or lemon juice can change the flavor and color profile. Once you’ve prepped a batch together, it’s easy for your child to grab veggies or pita bread for dipping.

Guacamole: Depending on your child’s age, you may need to cut and pit the avocados, but this provides another opportunity to practice measuring items, mashing, and mixing ingredients. When hunger hits, your child can easily portion out some of those sliced veggies, a few chips, and a small bowl of guac. Try Zipongo’s Quick Guacamole — it’s a summer favorite!

Ants on a log: This is a classic and adorable snack perfect for kids in the 4-6 year age range. Show your kids how to spread peanut butter on celery sticks with a plastic knife (or spoon, if they’re not yet ready for knives), and then let them top the peanut butter with raisins. You can also get creative with other toppings, like almonds or blueberries. This is a great opportunity to practice fine motor skill development in younger children!  

Cheese and crackers: Keep cheese slices in the refrigerator and crackers handy in the pantry for your kids. If they’re old enough, they can also practice cutting slices or squares of cheese with supervision — this is another soft food choice for your child to practice their knife skills on. 

Fruit and cheese kabobs: Threading pieces of fruit and cheese onto a wooden skewer is another great opportunity for little ones to practice fine motor skills and to keep them occupied. They can make patterns by alternating cheese cubes with different fruits like grapes, berries, or cut pineapple and banana. Provide a colorful array of fruits and challenge your kids to make a rainbow!

Toast: With a little supervision, children who are about 6 and older can learn to make toast on their own. Show them how to pull toast out of the toaster with small wooden tongs. They can practice spreading jelly or nut butter across the bread and sprinkling other toppings like sliced apples or bananas and cinnamon on top. Provide them with whole wheat or whole grain toast options.

Toasted cheese sandwich: Your kids can easily make this effortless twist on grilled cheese! Simply toast an English muffin, and as soon as the toaster is done, add sliced cheese to one half. Immediately press two pieces of warm bread together and the cheese should melt perfectly in between! 

Microwave Popcorn: Familiarize your kids with your microwave by making microwave popcorn together. Have them set the microwave to 4 minutes on high, and standby as the popcorn cooks. Listen together, and stop the microwave when popping slows to 2 to 3 seconds between pops (it may take anywhere from 2-4 minutes). This is also an opportunity to teach them how to be careful with hot foods by waiting for them to cool and using protective mitts. With the mitts on, they can carefully remove the popcorn from the microwave and empty the contents into a bowl. Use lightly buttered microwave popcorn options, or purchase plain kernels that you can microwave in your own brown paper bag. For individual servings, you can add ½ cup popping corn and 1 teaspoon of oil to a brown paper bag, folding the top closed. Encourage your children to be creative by trying different flavors: for a sweeter treat, they can mix in dried fruit and chocolate chips or cinnamon and sugar, or for a more savory option, they can dust on some taco seasoning with grated parmesan. 

General tips for success:

  • Make your kids’ snack items and their plates, bowls, and utensils accessible. Store them on lower shelves and in containers they are able to open
  • Snack time for your kids? Show interest in their creations, and make it snack time for you, too. Your child will be so proud that you are enjoying something they’ve put together
  • We recognize that unpracticed hands dealing with food may get messy, particularly with peanut butter. Make your child involved in, or possibly responsible for, the entire process from assembly to cleanup. Even your preschoolers can help put food scraps into the trash bin, practice washing their hands, or hand you plastic dishes
  • Enlist your children’s help with dinner prep as well. They can start by measuring out ingredients for sauces or seasonings, washing produce, tearing lettuce leaves and using the salad spinner.
  • Model meal prepping and healthy snacks for your kids by including them in your own process. Ask for their input on meals and snacks, and plan to utilize fruits and vegetables they do enjoy. Find time to sit down and work through Zipongo’s suggestions for meal planning together. Through this, you can provide your children with healthy options while still giving them space to make choices about their snacks. Maybe you have a picky eater or a child who tends to make less healthy choices? We have tips for that too! 

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