Creating a Family Friendly Kitchen
A big part of growing lifelong healthy eaters is having a Family Friendly Kitchen. Here are my best tips for creating a kitchen that will be inviting to your primary clientele: your family. Having your children in the kitchen with you affords you an incredible opportunity to teach them life skills and a chance to pass on your values. Many heart to heart talks have occurred in our kitchen while cooking and cleaning together. I believe that having a kitchen that is the Heart of Your Home is one of the most important things you can do for your family.
Make it a pleasant place to be.
Make your kitchen a nice place to be. It doesn’t have to be extra large or unreachably expensive, just create an inviting space that is clean and organized. Wonderful smells, kind words, and a welcoming smile will lure just about anyone. If you enjoy working in your kitchen, then others will come. At first, maybe just to sit and chat while you work. Be happy and low key. If you are stressed, they will run the other way. Talk casually about their day or what you are fixing. Make it seem fun and they will soon be asking if they can help.
Keep your kitchen decluttered
This tip is the number one tip from my friend Jan. She raised six children. Five of them were boys. She cooked with all of them, and she is now cooking with her two grandsons.Make sure your kitchen is not a dumping place for everything that comes in the house.
Make sure your kitchen is not a dumping place for everything that arrives in the home. Keep it clean so it is pleasant to cook in. Teach children to clean as they go so they are not confronted with a world class disaster to tackle when they finish a project. That is a sure-fire way to kill any desire for cooking, and it will always seem easier to buy something than to go through the hassle of cleaning the kitchen so they can make something.
Have sufficient cookware
I am not an advocate of having a different small appliance for each task that you perform. It tends to make a kitchen cluttered, and we just talked about how important a clean, organized kitchen is. There is something to be said, though, for having what you need to cook most foods. The basics will be almost the same for each family with a few variations to accommodate each household’s individual needs based on the size and age of their family, and what they love to cook. A good cookware set is a must. There are so many of them available. Usually, this includes a couple of sauce pans, a larger and smaller skillet, and a dutch oven.
After pots and pans, you will want 1-2 pie pans, a couple of cookie sheets, and a casserole dish of some sort. Mixing bowls, measuring spoons, a good paring knife, and a serrated knife. I also recommend having bread pans. With those basics, you should be able to cook most of what you want. We are a large family, so we keep a couple of stock pots. We love making waffles and pancakes, so we also own a waffle iron and a flat electric griddle. The idea is to have the basics so that it is easy to cook.
Keep a well-stocked Pantry
By well-stocked pantry, I mean basic food supplies in the cupboard and the refrigerator, that are not ready to eat now snack type foods. Have oil, flour, salt, pepper and sugar. Milk, butter, and eggs are pretty essential in the refrigerator. Keep onions, celery, garlic, as minimums for fresh produce.
Put dishes where they are easily accessible
Since the children were little, we have tried to keep our everyday dishes within easy reach. We put our plates and cups in lower cabinets on shelves so little ones can help set the table and put away dishes during cleanup. Nicer dishes, of course, stay up higher. Sometimes, to accomplish this, small appliances or things we don’t use as often may get stored on shelves in a closet, the basement or garage. That’s ok. Our goal is to give the children a sense of being welcome in the kitchen. It is a family place, not just an adult place.
Cook with your kids
Cooking with your children is more about you than it is about your kitchen, but I believe it is the single most important thing you can do to influence your family to have healthy eating habits for the rest of their lives. HEALTHY LIVING BEGINS AT HOME because HEALTHY COOKING BEGINS IN YOUR KITCHEN. Get your kids in the kitchen. Cook with them. If children are involved in the preparation of their food, they will learn to love that food. Having a positive, fun experience while they are cooking is essential. Don’t always make sweets when you cook together. Have them help with dinner or lunch.
You don’t have to get both feet wet to start. How about teaching young children to set the table with you. Show them how to make a complete place setting and see if they can copy it. Praise them for their success and help them fix mistakes.
Older children may enjoy learning napkin folding and using your better dishes to create a lovely setting for a special family meal.
A Little More
When you are ready, you may want to invite one child to help you with a portion of a meal. It need not be every meal or even every day. Make it fun and age appropriate. Adeline is 4, and she loves to measure, pour, and stir. She enjoys using the vegetable chopper to cut up easy things like blocks of cheese, celery, or pineapple slices. Decorating homemade pizza is one of her great joys.
Older children can help a lot more. Jeremiah and RuthAnn are 9 and 11. They can do about anything that needs to be done for a meal but still need supervision for certain tasks like using the stove. They can both fix a decent lunch and clean the kitchen fairly well.
Big Cooking Day
After they have been helping for a while, it is fun to let a child help plan and cook a whole meal for the family. It gives them such a sense of accomplishment and may be the key to a lifelong love of healthy cooking and eating.
Let your child or teen help decide what to make for an individual meal. Assist them to make a shopping list for just that meal. Incorporate it into your regular shopping trip. Take them along to the store with you and let them find the ingredients and put them in the basket.
Plan a cooking day that is not going to be busy with soccer practice or dance class, then let them help cook. Inform the rest of the family about the helper and make sure they know what a good job the helper did.
My teenage girls can plan, shop, and cook a meal entirely without me, and they frequently do; but we still cook together often just because we love to, and it builds good memories. Your family will too.
( This page will be updated now and then. Many of you have great ideas that we would like to hear in the discussion below. Please join in the conversation even if only to tell others thanks for ideas you enjoy. )