Modern families have precious little time to spend together, so it’s time to rethink what a “family moment” can be — starting with the kitchen.
Making kids part of meal prep is not only a great bonding experience now, but has lifelong benefits for their wellbeing. And they can start even earlier than you think — “The Real” host and former “Sister, Sister” star Tamera Mowry-Housley already has her son, Aden, lending a hand at the counter, and he’s not even 3 years old yet!
“As a parent, the No. 1 thing I want to instill is healthy eating,” she says. “I’ve found that the more we cook together, the more curious he is about food.”
Mowry-Housley was in New York to launch rice brand Uncle Ben’s fourth annual Ben’s Beginners Cooking Contest. Kids kindergarten to eighth grade can submit short videos of themselves cooking a rice-based dish with their families for a chance to win $15,000 for a kitchen makeover, plus $30,000 for their school’s cafeteria.
Whether it’s doing the grocery shopping, prepping the ingredients or plating, there’s a role for small hands of all ages. “You’ll be surprised what kids are willing to try when they’re part of the process,” Mowry-Housley says.
We got her tips on the benefits of bringing little ones into the kitchen and making cooking fun for everyone.
Create a theme — any theme!
“A great way to inspire playfulness and creativity is having fun theme nights,” suggests Mowry-Housley. That goes for both the cook and sous chef: Kids will be more willing to try new foods to keep with the theme, while parents have some of the menu-planning pressure taken off them. And a theme doesn’t have to be a certain country’s food — try making everything on a plate the same color by using spices like turmeric as a natural food coloring. Or maybe one night, every ingredient has to start with the same letter. This is also a great way to get them into the most boring part of the cooking experience: grocery shopping.
Play dress up
Kids already love to wear mom’s shoes and dad’s ties, so make the kitchen more appealing by creating an all-ages “costume” zone. Get a kid-size apron, a chef’s hat and even kid-size utensils to make little ones feel even more part of the action. They may not get to help with everything, but looking like mom and dad will make them want to keep learning to get there.
Turn the kitchen into a zoo
As part of the Ben’s Beginners contest, Uncle Ben’s asked kids to draw their dream kitchen. Turns out, they all really want animals helping them out! While kitchens are no place for a monkey — whether or not they’re helping whisk together some cake batter — you can incorporate animals into the decor. A cat clock, a fish-shaped cutting board and animal-shaped oven mitts instantly add an element of fantasy and make the kitchen more inviting to kids.
Make problem foods the focus
“Kids are more likely to try different herbs and vegetables if they help prepare it,” says Mowry-Housley. Want your kid to get into salads? Even the littlest hands can help with washing vegetables, tearing apart lettuce leaves for salads and pulling herbs like cilantro off the stalk, and even garnishing the plates with it. The best way, though, is to have them see you eating these foods: Mowry-Housley discovered that it’s not just the food they’re working with that Aden is interested in — she likes to eat grapes while she’s cooking, so he now snacks on them, too.