Involving children in meal choices and preparation can help to improve their eating habits and establish a healthy relationship with food. They’re also learning important life skills vital for future independence.
Food preferences and eating habits often develop early in life. Helping to prepare their own meals can encourage an interest in healthier foods or persuade picky eaters to try or experiment with new or previously refused foods. It can also provide a wonderful hands-on, multi-sensory experience.
Our newest sticker pack – Food and Drink Basics – includes symbols related to preparing and serving hot drinks, breakfast, snacks and simple lunches.
You could use them with TomTag to:-
- Create step-by-step instructions for making breakfast, snacks, simple lunches and hot drinks.
- List the food choices available to your child for breakfast, lunch and snacks.
- List each family member’s food preference as a reminder to those preparing the food.
Whichever way you choose, here’s a few simple tips to follow.
Choose tasks that are appropriate to your child’s developmental level. Starter tasks might include washing fruit, cutting soft vegetables with plastic knives or spreading butter on toast.
Move on later to more complex tasks requiring greater motor skills, concentration and focus such as using a peeler, chopping with sharper knives or boiling a kettle.
Having children help in the kitchen provides a natural opportunity for education on a number of topics.
Teaching children to wash their hands and kitchen surfaces before preparing food or showing them safe ways to use knives helps them to understand the importance of kitchen safety and hygiene.
Practice reading and maths skills by comparing packet labels and counting or measuring out ingredients.
Talk about the effects our choice of food has on our health and lifestyle. Try out the NHS Change4Life Sugar Swaps app for a fun way to find out how much sugar is in our food and drinks.
If children associate food with enjoyable experiences, they’re more likely to be receptive to trying new foods and eating healthily. Fun meal preparation activities can be particularly helpful if you have a child with sensory issues around food.
Cookie cutters are brilliant for turning boring sandwiches into enticing nibbles. A selection of different coloured fruits or vegetables look great laid out to make a rainbow. Our old favourite Pinterest is a fantastic source of fun food ideas for kids.
If you’ve got anything left over from halloween you could always take some inspiration from this pumpkin horse!
Be sure to give compliments and praise and encourage them to keep building on their skills. Let them be the first to taste what they’ve made and ask for suggestions of what they’d like to try next.
Having kids help out often means a bit more mess to clear up afterwards. Try to be patient and allow for a little extra mess whilst they’re still learning. Check back to October’s Life Skill tips and you might even get them to help out with the clearing up too!
Other helpful resources
Get free visual recipe sheets for tasty treats and snacks from The Autism helper.
Try The Eating Game from Canada if you’re looking for a more comprehensive visual food planning tool.
Cheeriosmilkandspoon is Sarah’s personal blog account of parenting a child with food aversions and eating challenges.