Most kids I’ve known adore whipping up meals, snacks or baked goods in the kitchen. Translation – the kitchen is one of the best place to introduce eco-friendly skills to your kiddos because they’re already hanging around with interest.
Introducing your kids to green living and cooking skills usually starts outside of the kitchen. The planning and thinking stages are very much part of being a good green chef (or eco-friendly person in general). Tips 1-4 below cover the planning stages and tips 5-10 launch into actual cooking adventures.
1. Read (think) about it:
You don’t just have to read eco-friendly cookbooks, although that is a nice place to start. It’s not the recipes my kiddos like first, but the pictures. With that in mind, when looking for good cookbooks for kids, check out bright and glossy cookbooks first to jog their interest.
You and the kids can also take a look at cooking websites, watch cooking shows or even take an easy cooking class together. Part of successful cooking with kids is spiking their interest, then keeping them interested.
2. Discuss organics:
Kids don’t always understand why we should choose organic vs. conventional foods. I’ve been discussing organics with my son forever at this point and at age nine, Cedar has totally caught on. He’s very organic conscious at this point and will go out of his way to search out organics. Now, does it always pay off? Nope, he’s mad that there are no organic Skittles; he’s not so mad that he won’t eat the conventional ones though. However, he will ask for organic apples and milk.
To discuss organic choices with a younger child, my best advice is to keep it simple. Stay away from pesticides until your child is a little older – pesticides, which you can’t see, are a tad abstract to a child. Say something like, “Organic means healthier for your body” or “Organic foods are a smart choice for the planet, like turning off the lights.” These are things that worked with my son when he was young. Now I do explain terms like chemicals and pesticides in more detail but I waited until I thought he could grasp that concept.
3. Let them shop:
Kids can smartly shop if you let them. Help them make a list for whatever they’d like to cook. Choose a time when you have extra time and allow your child to measure out bulk food, choose new and interesting fruits and make decisions about which juice to buy.
Give your tot his own basket and sometimes some money so he can pay on his own. Take your kids to the Farmers’ Market. This allows a child to take ownership of what he’s cooking and eating.
4. Start young:
Even little kids can help make a healthy and inventive school lunch or snack. It’s smart to baby-proof the kitchen so that your kids can be in there with you from a young age. Kitchen safety should start early and so should food choices. At my house, Cedar has his own spaces in the cupboard and fridge, with food choices he can make on his own.
When he was younger he’d complain that he couldn’t cook alone so we made a visual list of foods he COULD make and some he wanted to learn. For example, Cedar drew pictures of cereal, toast, apples, carrots, yogurt and other easy foods that he could fix himself, and when he’d whine about being hungry (between meals) I’d refer him to the list. He eventually added stuff he wanted to learn how to make to the list as well.
5. Use green cooking tools:
Using eco-friendly cooking gear like silicone muffin cups, stainless steel cookie cutter, real vs. paper towels to dry fruit, recycled bowls, reusable ice pop molds and food storage containers over plastic wrap provides you with plenty of conversation topics. For example, my son used to fight against homemade ice pops. He REALLY wanted those shiny boxes of pre-wrapped store treats. But, I just kept telling him the pros of homemade, and now it’s not an issue.
Green living is sometimes about making hard choices and with my son, homemade ice pops were a harder choice when he wanted the store pops so bad. So far he’s survived without store bought pops and it’s a good lesson in green choices and living.
If you can, try to score some green cooking and baking tools made especially for kids. Kid tools tend to be smaller, so they’re easier for little hands and often come in fun colors too.
6. Try cooking with nature:
Incorporate nature with your cooking. For example…
- Make some fun organic candied flowers.
- Grow wheatgrass and make smoothies.
- Gather non-toxic leaves, spread melted organic chocolate on them, freeze. Later carefully peel the chocolate off and you’ll have awesome homemade organic chocolate leaves.
- Build a solar cooker and bake with the sun.
- Grow your own salad mix or even grow edible flowers.
7. Encourage meatless meals:
Kids who are given veggies from a young age really do love them. Meatless meals are healthy and better for the environment. Cedar was raised vegetarian and he’d rather eat a bowl full of broccoli, a red pepper or sliced apples than cookies. I’m not kidding. Lately his deal is peas. He ate an entire bag of them this week.
Tofu is an very easy ingredient to work with, and kids like to squish it around with their hands. Try some tofu recipes for kids.
8. Set a green example:
Recycle packaging, compost old food, use food up, turn the oven off early, turn the water off and get invested in other basic green kitchen habits. Your child is watching you carefully, make sure he’s seeing that you’re engaged in basic eco-friendly activities.
9. Stay chill:
In my opinion, chill parents have happier kids in general, but being calm really pays off in the kitchen. I was at someone’s house once and the family was making cookies. The mom freaked when one of the kids cracked an egg badly (it spilled) and took over if she thought a kid was messing up. She even directed the kids on how to decorate the finished cookies. Her kids didn’t look like they were having much fun.
Kids need to make mistakes. Kids need to feel safe, like you won’t yell over something little like spilled milk. Yes, for sure teach kitchen safety, but mostly chill out. Kids can handle more than we think. If you push and freak, your kids won’t want to hang out with you.
10. Host a little party:
After you get your kid cooking, let him show off his mad skills by hosting a little party. It can be as small as grandma over for dinner or as big as five little friends over for lunch. You can even plan a special event like a pizza party, a tea party or a cupcake party.
Whatever you plan make sure your child puts his green skills into action too. No paper plates, use organics and so on.
Extra: Some fun recipes to try with kids…
- Organic Caramel Apples
- Organic Black Raspberry Chocolate Frozen Yogurt
- Easy Homemade Bread – Homemade Organic Honey Oat Bread
- Healthy Organic & Fair Trade Hot Chocolate
- Organic sugar cookies
- Homemade Organic Raspberry Bars
- 50 Amazing Homemade Popsicle Recipes & Ideas
- Homemade organic applesauce
Have any other great green cooking with kids tips? Let everyone know about them in the comments.