If your kitchen is like mine, there is a pile of pending documents, a toy (or two) on the counter awaiting mom repair and sticky spots on the floor. Some nights, the idea of pulling a meal together in my kitchen feels daunting, and including the kids seems impossible. But my nutrition idol Ellyn Satter said it best: “When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers,” and part of our family’s joy is including our kids in cooking. Here’s how we make
it work for our family of five.
Involve kids at their level
I choose recipes according to my kids’ ages and attention spans. My youngest (age 4) is happy dumping in an ingredient and then running off to play. My middle (age 6) loves to smell the ingredients, each exposure another food experience to log in his palate. My oldest (age 9) perfects her egg-cracking abilities using a small bowl so we can fish out any shells. Using kid cookbooks and a monthly kid cooking subscription have helped improve acceptance of new foods.
Stay the course
I know the frustration of preparing a healthy meal only to have it rejected by my beloveds. Don’t stop trying! It can take 10 to 15 times of trying a new food before a child will accept it. When I’m serving a new food or something not wildly popular with my crowd, I soften the blow by making sure there is a secondary dish they do like or letting them decide which vegetable to serve.
Share the science
My kids are fortunate to have a dad with a green thumb (because I do not), and he includes them in the prep, planting and harvest of our garden. Not many cherry tomatoes or sugar snap peas made it into the house one summer because the kids were snacking on them while playing in the backyard! As a dietitian, I hope telling my kids about the good stuff in food carries some weight to making healthy cho
ices. We make it fun, too! My kids pretend to be giants eating trees when we have broccoli and show off biceps after a dose of protein. We talk with our oldest two about how their choice of fuel impacts their energy levels when playing baseball or soccer.
Research shows that family mealtimes benefit children in their self-esteem, and mine certainly take pride in helping prepare the food being served. Whatever method of including your kids fits your family’s style, go for it!
Customizable Pizza Cups
This recipe is actually one that my older daughter Maddie first made with our 12-yr-old niece out of a kids cookbook. We’ve adapted it some and it’s become a regular favorite at our house. My kids love that they can choose their own toppings. I flavor tomato sauce myself instead of using a pre-made pizza sauce, saving calories, sugar and fat. I sometimes sneak in a tablespoon or two of pureed spinach or butternut squash without anyone even noticing! My son prefers just a touch of olive oil with some seasoning because he’s not a sauce fan. Make it yours!
Time: 15 minutes prep, 10-12 minutes cooking
- 1 thin crust refrigerated pizza dough
- 8oz can tomato sauce
- ½tsp garlic powder
- 1-2 tsp Italian seasoning (or a combo of some
basil, oregano and parsley)
- Shredded mozzarella
- Toppings of choice
Mix garlic powder and Italian seasoning into tomato sauce. Chop toppings as needed and set aside. Unroll pizza dough onto countertop and cut rectangle into 16 pieces with a butter knife (so kids can help with this part!) Gently press each square into a greased cupcake pan, pinching a little of the dough together as needed to make sure the entire bottom of each cup is covered with the dough. Add 1-2 teaspoons of tomato sauce, followed by 1 tablespoon of toppings and 1-2 tablespoons of shredded mozzarella. The cup can be heaping a little as it will cook down. Bake at 400 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until the cheese is completely melted and the edges of the crust are lightly browned. Run a butter knife around each one to loosen from the pan and enjoy!
Gluten Free Dessert Pizza Cups
Time: 10-12 minutes cooking
- 1/2 Wholly Gluten Free pizza dough
- 1 Tbsp butter
- 1-2 Tbsp brown sugar
- 1-2 tsp cinnamon
Roll leftover dough into a rectangle and spread 1 Tbsp softened butter onto entire rectangle. Sprinkle 1-2 Tbsp brown sugar and 1-2 tsp cinnamon to cover the dough. Cut dough rectangle in half to make two squares. Roll up the square and slice into three rounds; repeat with the second square. Place rolls cut side up into greased cupcake pan and press down gently on the tops. Bake at 400 degrees for about 10-12 minutes.
Editor’s note: Editor’s note: This is the third article in a three-part series exploring ideas for cooking as a family from local moms.
Kim Bilger, MPH, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian with a passion for helping people optimize their nutritional health. She lives in Edmond with her husband and three kids who appreciate her love of baking but not always her love of vegetables.