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Promote child independence in the kitchen

Family in the kitchen

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – “As a parent of two kids ages six and nine, I sometimes have to remind myself to stop doing everything for them. Rather it is my job to teach them the important life skills that will set them up for success as they get older and leave the family home,” says Jenna Smith, University of Illinois Extension registered dietitian and nutrition and wellness educator.

According to Smith, establishing independence in the kitchen doesn’t happen overnight. Children can start building these skills at an early age, starting with simple tasks, such as helping stir ingredients, choosing the type of fruit to serve with dinner or wiping the table. As the child grows and the simpler tasks are mastered, it’s time to move them to a higher skill level. Teach them to measure ingredients, pour themselves a drink and load the dishwasher. When ready, help them learn how to use a toaster and microwave, how to crack open an egg and use a knife.

Kitchen safety should always be a top priority. Equip children with appropriate tools for their age, such as a step stool, a plastic knife for cutting and non-slip bowls. Set safety rules, like always asking before cooking, and go over them more than once. Make sure they know about potential hot surfaces, particularly stove-top burners, and where the sharp knives and utensils are kept. Always supervise children when they’re working in the kitchen. This is the time to teach proper hygiene practices when working with food, including washing hands with soap and water and tying long hair back so it doesn’t fall into the food.

Expect messes and mess-ups. Expect to hear growls when asked to do the dishes. Expect their creativity to soar and produce flavor combinations that are dreadful! But they are gaining self-confidence and learning valuable life skills so that you don’t get the “how do I make eggs?” text when they move out!

Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich

  • 2 slices 100% whole wheat bread
  • 2 Tablespoons creamy peanut butter
  • ½ medium banana

Wash hands with soap and water. Toast slices of bread in the toaster. While toast is still warm, spread 1-Tablespoon of peanut butter over one side of each slice. Using a plastic knife, carefully slice banana into-1/4-inch circles. Arrange on one of the slices of peanut butter toast. Top with the other slice, peanut butter slice down, to make a sandwich.

Yield: 1 serving

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 380 calories, 19 grams fat, 390 milligrams sodium, 45 grams carbohydrate, 8 grams fiber, 12 grams protein

SOURCE: JENNA SMITH, Nutrition and Wellness Educator serving Livingston, McLean, and Woodford counties


About Extension

Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities. Illinois Extension is part of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.