Kid’s Real Life Training: Learning All About Food

Who doesn’t want to spend time learning all about food and how to plan meals, prepare and preserve the foods we’ve made?  Probably our kids, but too bad, they need to learn it sometime and we’re the ones to teach them!

This article is the third in a series that talks a little bit about the things our kids need to know that aren’t covered at school.  These are lessons that need to be taught at home and many of them aren’t happening.  Of course as most of you know, articles like these come from personal experience and this one is no different.

In my first article of this series I talked about teaching your children how the house works just for general knowledge and in case of emergency.  In the general knowledge arena, my son was mesmerized by the washing machine.  He thought it was so cool that the clothes were stuck to the drum after the spin cycle!  So, this learning can be fun – if you go about it the right way.

Well, now that mine know how to turn the water off at the main turn off, turn on and off the alarm and change the temperature in the house, it’s time to turn to the kitchen.

Learn to use the appliances:

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In our first lesson we did go over the use of the oven, range, refrigerator, dish washer and microwave.  The kids had no trouble with the microwave since that’s where popcorn comes from these days, and the refrigerator was a snap.  So I do think a little reminder of how to use the oven and range are in order.  We have an electric cook top so it seems a little less frightening than when we had gas and a real flame was shooting above the surface of the countertop.

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As for the oven, even I get confused between cook time, timer 1 and timer 2, so we got out the oven instruction manual.  Guess what?  All the answers are right there!!

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This might be a good time to suggest to parents and kids alike that when you purchase a new appliance or gadget, it’s a good idea to save the instruction manual for down the road.  We have all of ours in a plastic file box, labeled so it’s easy to find everything.

So, it’s safe to say that my kids are pretty comfortable with how all of the cooking appliances work – they just never use them!

Planning a meal:
To make this a bit more fun for each of them, I asked them to go through the entire process of making their favorite meal.  My daughter’s favorite is meatloaf, mashed potatoes and corn and my son loves burritos.  Well, they thought they could just go to the refrigerator and pull out the stuff and get started.  Ha!  Where does any meal start?  That’s right, at the grocery store!!

Make sure your kid’s understand that normally you don’t just plan one meal and putting together a week’s worth of meals takes some serious work.  Not only do you need to decide what you are having for the week, you need to find out if you have what it takes to put those delicious meals together.

First, when you (or your kids) are planning for a week’s worth of meals, one thing you should ask yourself is how can I make these 7 meals easier, faster and more economical.  For instance, would you consider having the same meal twice?  Or at least a version of it, say using the main protein again with different sides? This saves a step in cooking and makes better use of your time.

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Another idea is to alter the main protein for each of several meals.  For instance, grill up a bunch of chicken for grilled chicken the first night.

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Another night during the week, heat the grilled chicken up for chicken fajitas, burritos, or tacos.

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Then take all of those crumbs left from meal one and meal two and put them together for a tasty chicken chili!

This kind of thinking teaches your children to stretch their dollars and save their time.  They can then buy certain things in bulk, and by using coupons, which again is an entire lesson in itself, they can really help themselves and their family’s budget!

OK, now their thinking about what meals are needed throughout the day, breakfast before school, lunches to pack, snacks and dinner.  Give them time to think about the options for each meal.  Maybe they’ll come up with solutions or options that save YOU time, like making their own lunch to take to school!  Or in my kid’s case, “We’ll buy!”  Meaning they’d rather buy the school lunch than make their own.  (Wait ‘til I tell them they have to earn the money to buy lunch!)

All of the ingredients that go into each meal have to be purchased and although they know this in the back of their minds, I’m sure they haven’t thought much about how this all gets done.  So, making a list comes next.

Creating a shopping list:
To make a list, you can easily grab a piece of paper and start writing.  After doing this for years, it dawned on me that I know what we like to eat, we eat the same dozen meals or so and I continue to write down the exact same things each week.

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This prompted me to create a shopping list on the computer that I print up and simply add check marks to the things we need.  Boy does this save time and hand stress!

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I have my list set up to reflect the floor plan at the grocery store.  That way, when I enter and go around from the right to the left, I follow along on my list and I don’t miss too many things.  Then at the bottom I have a series of blank lines to add those things that come up once in a while like spices or baking needs.

At the grocery store:

Now the best eye opener is to take your kids to the grocery store and let them see just how much food costs!  We prefer to eat organic foods if we can, but they are extremely expensive and there are many days that I forego the organic produce and buy what’s in season because the price difference is astounding.

Here’s where my daughter learns that there are several different ground beef options for her meatloaf and they vary in price and fat content, and my son can read the nutrition label on all varieties of tortillas.  It really is amazing what they can learn about nutrition, what questions they ask, and how much I learn as well!

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Teach them to shop the perimeter of the grocery store where they can select from fewer processed foods and more fresh produce, fresh bakery and fresh meats and fish.  I am getting close to being able to do this except that I do buy certain canned goods, pasta, yes a few chips and pretzels, and cereal. This method is another time saver and it keeps you away from most of the foods that are full of empty calories.

And, there are all sorts of lessons in buying on sale, buying store brands, using coupons as I mentioned earlier and not buying impulse items!

Then there is the age old (not really, only a couple years old!) question of paper or plastic.  I love paper and ask them to package all my dry goods in paper then I use it to recycle paper at my home.  Plastic bags are recycled at my store so I use plastic for wet or cold items.  Once in a while I take my fabric shopping bags, but they fill those so full that I can barely carry them!

Putting the groceries away:
Isn’t it interesting that you and I might take all of these tasks for granted because we do them week after week after week.  I am very particular about where everything goes in my pantry and in the refrigerator.  Don’t you dare put cereal in the chip and pretzel shelf or I might buy it again, not knowing it exists!  It’s the same in the refrigerator.  It saves me all kinds of time knowing that the almond butter is on the second shelf and the pickles are on the top shelf.  I don’t spend time digging through everything when I’m looking for last night’s leftovers – they are on the bottom shelf.  Organization is a wonderful thing and kid’s need to see how it can make their lives easier, leaving more time to PLAY!

I also put newer grocery items to the back so I use up the older boxes and cans first.  I really hate throwing food away that is expired or sat too long and I didn’t get to making it.  I do my best to avoid this.  And you know when it happens most?  When I don’t plan the meals for the week and I buy something that just looks good like mushrooms or fresh herbs.

Making the meal:
I think that making a meal is something that takes a lot of practice. Just figuring out the timing is a tough project.  I talked to my kids about what part of their meal should be made first, were there items that had to be thawed?  Marinated? Ovens preheated? Vegetables washed and peeled, maybe cut up?  Just talking it through gets them thinking about it.

Go ahead and let them try to prepare their favorite meals.  This is a marvelous opportunity to learn about reading a recipe and measurements.  Walk along with them through the steps and thought processes, which tools work best for each task, how important good lighting is, how to use a sharp knife, how to keep up with the dishes as you prepare and so on.

Eat up!:
I know, you’re thinking, what do they need to know about eating?  Well, it is a great time to discuss table manners. My son is 12 and he still can’t remember to use a napkin.  We were out to dinner the other night and he stabbed a 3” square piece of ham with his fork and took bites off of it while it hung in the air instead of cutting bite sized pieces. Where did he ever learn to do that?

Plus, it will be interesting to see if they are looking for compliments or a “thank you” after they’ve gone to so much work to put a meal on the table.  Perhaps this is the best way to teach them appreciation.  Watch as they eat, are they taking a bit more time to savor every bite instead of gobbling it down to get back to their own activities?  When you put in the effort, you have a new found respect for those that do it on a daily basis….we hope!

Clean up:
I don’t know about you, but if I’ve made the meal, I think someone else should clean up.  I’ll bet your kids finally feel the same way now!

However, there are lessons to be learned in food storage, like letting the food cool a bit before adding the lids to containers and putting hot food in the refrigerator.  Teach them your tried and true methods of food storage and clean up so you are never disappointed with their efforts.

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This might be a good time to mention that you shouldn’t try to tackle everything I’ve written here in one night.  I think it could lead to a full blown food fight!  Have patience and work through the idea of teaching your kids all you know about food.

Who cares how long it takes, as long as at the end of every lesson there’s food on the table and happy faces enjoying it!

Shari

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