How to Get Your Kids to Eat: Let Them Join You in the Kitchen

When I had one child we made magic in the kitchen on a daily basis. I invited friends to bring their kids for make your own pizza playdates. Then I had a second, and with a close to 3 year age difference, I found myself fumbling to pretty much accomplish anything, let alone cook with them.

Vivienne assisting in the kitchen
Vivienne assisting in the kitchen

Cooking went from being a passion to a chore and there was nothing magical on our plates. I avoided any assistance from my children, opting for hours of TV over the mess I knew they’d make and I’d have to clean. Needless to say, I felt pretty crummy at the end of each day when we sat down to dinner.

Mealtime went something like this: they wanted to continue watching TV (insert yelling, & acting like a crazy person to get them to sit), refused to eat the meal I cooked (insert threats, charts, rewards & the occasional crazy person rant), ran around the house like maniacs (insert time-outs, rewards for sitting, and lots of yelling) then the food went into the trash can (insert cursing, lots of cursing). Not only had I sacrificed time playing with them to make the food they tortured me with, but we were tossing money into the trash every night.

So I attended workshops, read countless tips and met with our pediatrician multiple times for ideas to get my kids (especially my super skinny son) to eat. No one had an idea that worked.

Through lots of trial and error I created one: I cook with my kids. The reward: they actually (usually) eat what I make-no matter what it is.

I’m not whipping up pate or crispy skin fish, but I’m making family friendly, healthy meals we can all eat and enjoy. We have a grass fed burger with a sauce you’d usually find on a Big Mac, and we have breakfast for dinner. We also have delicious recipes I find in my favorite food magazine, Cooking Light But I always make it a point to  ask my kids what they want before I head to the grocery store, and I always incorporate their requests into our weekly menu.

I ask them to join me every night, but on the nights I’m not serving a meal they’ve chosen, I make sure they come into the kitchen. At the end of our cooking time, they’re so excited to serve what they’ve made and tell their Daddy how they contributed, that they often eat most of what’s on their plate.

My two year old is amazing at mixing and pouring. My five year old is learning basic knife handling. They’re my taste testers, and my five year old loves describing the flavors based on the tastes he’s learned in preschool. I’m teaching them a lifelong skill, and helping them develop a healthy relationship with food.

So, when we pull chairs into the kitchen, assign jobs, and take turns creating a meal (and a giant mess) each day. I sigh with frustration, we waste an egg or two, but when we sit down to dig in, we’re ending our day on a happier note.

Breakfast for dinner in our Pj's
Breakfast for dinner in our PJ’s: note giant mess in the background

-There’s no magic formula for picky eaters; offering an option that works for me, Jess

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Armed with an undergraduate degree in Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Teaching, Jessica began a career as an advertising executive before spending nine years as an 8th grade English teacher. In 2009, Jessica opted out of the workforce to be home with her kids.

In need of an intellectual outlet, Jessica was offered the opportunity to start a third career as a freelance travel & lifestyle writer and has never looked back. Having contributed to travel & lifestyle outlets: Nile Guide, Tripology, USA TODAY & 10Best Jessica is excited to be part of the Amazing Matriarch where she hopes she can encourage other women to channel the amazing within.

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