One of the biggest worries that I hear from parents is "Will my child be ready for the real world when ______ is old enough?" My response is to use moments in life as perfect teaching moments. For example, if you have a child or children who complain about what is for supper, then have them plan the meal the next time or next week. Give them parameters which the meal must meet. This includes being well balanced meals with foods from every food group. Then have them buy the groceries, prepare and clean up the meal. Children can pick the day in which they are going to complete this task. This will teach them how much work you as parents put into planning and preparing things around the house and hopefully teach them some things along the way. Be careful not to make it a punishment, because they won't get anything out of it.
Planning the Meal
Children love to be included in the decisions that the family makes and planning a meal is the perfect way to make a child feel special. At first you and the child could plan the meal together to teach them how to find things you already have in the house and what you might need to buy at the store. Planning together also teaches the child or children what is important in a meal such as including healthy foods rather than junk food. When you include food from all of the food groups, children are not as hungry after the meal. This is also a good time to start teaching children to read the food labels and talk about what makes a food healthy or not such as looking for how much fat, salt, carbs, fiber, and protein is in a food.
Going to the Grocery
When going to the grocery store, use this as an opportunity to teach children about the prices of food and how to get the best deal. For example looking for the generic or sale foods. Parents can prepare children ahead of time by showing them the sales ads from the different stores and comparing prices. Check to see if the grocery store will allow comparable pricing on the competitions sale prices. This is also a good time to show children the food labels to choose healthy choices for foods they are buying. When the child is supposed to plan and prepare his/her own meal, they should pick out only the foods required for their meal and pay for it themselves. It is a wonder how much they look for the cheaper prices when they know it is coming out of their own pocket. If parents give the money and can afford it, allow the child to keep the change after they are done and see if they spend wisely then.
Preparing the Meal
When teaching children how to cook, make sure you are teaching them how to be safe. Fires and burns are the biggest causes of accidents in the kitchen. You might have to watch your child cook to ensure they are safe depending on how much you trust their abilities in the kitchen. But remember cooking can be a fun learning experience with children. Children love making memories with you and cherish them for a long time. When you have child prepare the meal teach them about how to set the table as well.
Cooking is full of teachable moments because you can teach about how to measure out ingredients, cutting foods, reading a recipe, temperature, etc. This is a good time to talk about the different vocabulary that is used when cooking and what the difference is between the different words. When reading a recipe it is different than reading a book or newspaper and can be very confusing to children. Measuring out ingredients talks about fractions which is also very confusing to children.
Eating the Meal
With the hectic lives that we live today, there is not much time spent sitting at the table enjoying the meal. But it is can be the most special time of a child's life because this is a time when you can catch up on your day or their day. There is a lot of times when I see children leaving the table 10 seconds after the meal has started because they are done and don't want to sit at the table. This is a good time to teach children to sit and have a conversation with you about what they did for the day.
Sitting and enjoying what you are eating is also a good thing because it can be a time to teach when to recognize you are full and don't want any more to eat. Rushing through our meals is one of the reasons so many are having stomach problems such as heartburn, indigestion, bloating, and gas.
When a child has prepared the meal, this is a good time to show your appreciation for what they have done.
Teach children what happens after the meal is over and how to best clean up. Teach them how to fill the dishwasher and wash dishes. This teaches children responsibility. You could even encourage them to clean up after themselves after the meal.
Parents spend their life teaching their children how to live in the real world. Teaching responsibility early is the best way to hold children accountable but it is never too late to teach children life skills.
My name is Stena Schmitt.
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