Two smiling young girls helping with meal prep by making a salad for dinner

Whether you’re whipping up a berry-filled Dutch baby on Sunday morning or mini ham sliders for a mid-week lunch, turning meal prep into a family affair can be a fun way to make memories.

It also has lasting benefits. Cooking teaches kids and teens critical thinking, creativity and collaboration[1], plus adolescents with strong meal-prep skills are more likely to develop healthy eating habits[2].

Get started early and help your kids develop this crucial life-long skill with these 10 ways they can hone their talents.

1Choosing Recipes

How’s this for incentive: Children tend to eat better when they have a say in family meals[3]. Young kids can look at pictures for foods that look tasty (just be sure to stick with books that have easy, healthy meals), while older children can scour the web for recipes with specific ingredients (say, broccoli or strawberries).

Plan out portions using Canada’s food guide, which suggests half a plate of fruit and veggies, a quarter plate of protein-rich foods (like meat and seafood, low-fat dairy and eggs, and nuts) and a quarter plate of whole grains.

2Checking Flyers for Deals

Once your child has basic math skills, you can ask them to search through grocery flyers for healthy foods that are on sale. This process will teach them to understand the value of a dollar, research and compare before buying products and practice their addition; get them to tally up the amount you will save if you buy certain foods at a discount. (For more ways to build financial literacy depending on age, visit the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada.)

3Grocery Shopping

Whether you prefer online grocery shopping or a trip to the store, involve your kids to familiarize them with healthy food choices.

Let them pick out and count fresh fruits and vegetables, choose new ingredients to test in recipes and, as they get older, check food labels to understand fat, protein sugar and sodium content.

4Gathering Ingredients

When it comes time to cook, let your child read through the recipe and assemble all of the ingredients on the counter. If they’re too young to read, you can call out each item and help them find it in the pantry or fridge.

5Washing Fruits and Veggies

A wide variety of colourful fruits and vegetables are the key to a healthy diet, but they can also be contaminated with harmful germs such as salmonella, E. coli and listeria[4]. Ask older children to give all fresh produce a thorough wash or set up a stool and help younger children rinse fruits and veggies at the sink.

6Measuring, Mixing and Mashing

Wherever you can, allow your child to lend a helping hand with safe kitchen tasks. You might ask them to:

  • Measure out dry and liquid ingredients.
  • Mash foods like sweet potatoes or bananas.
  • Open canned food with a can opener.
  • Grate cheese (just be sure to keep little fingers away from the holes!).
  • Add ingredients to a blender.
  • Crack or beat eggs.

7Assembling Toppings and Layers

One of the best parts of cooking is the assembly. Let your child style a fruit-and-veggie platter, arrange the ingredients in a turkey, bacon and avocado club, pour each layer of a yogurt parfait or pile up fish tacos with cabbage slaw.

8Using Appliances and Chopping Veggies

While younger kids (around ages four to six) can use a children’s knife to cut soft items like cooked veggies, tofu or soft fruits, it’s best to leave the chopping and dicing of hard, tough or slippery ingredients to kids over eight. Of course, you know your child best, so use your judgment!

When it comes to the stove or oven, supervise children until they’re responsible enough to avoid touching hot surfaces and can remember to turn the appliance off when they’re done (usually around age 12).

9Setting the Table

While your meal is baking or resting, kids can set the table with all of the necessary plates, glasses and flatware. Getting your child involved in a meal routine, from cooking a dish to arranging the placemats, is a good step toward correcting misbehaviour around mealtimes[5].

10Cleaning Up

For many people, tidying up the mess after the meal is the worst part of cooking. Make it fun by cranking music and sharing the burden. Let kids load the dishwasher and add detergent, or ask them to fill the sink with dish soap and help to wash or dry.

By the time they’re tweens, your kids should be able to assemble their own lunches (check out Canada’s food guide for eating healthy at school), follow more complex recipes and even handle some meals completely on their own. That’s the goal, right?!

Kids' Meal Prep Essentials