Involving children with mealtimes

Encouraging an interest and connecting children with food from an early age may make them more willing to try and accept new foods, and eat a more varied balanced diet as they grow up.

Here are some ideas for how to get children involved with mealtimes, which you can adapt to suit the age of your child.

You can get children involved right at the beginning by helping to pick which meals you will be cooking, making the shopping lists together, helping you to do the shopping and if possible even growing some of your own food too.

Ways children can help with meal planning:

  • Helping to choose what meals you are going to make.
  • Putting together shopping lists with you.
  • Finding out what foods are in season.
  • Growing herbs, fruit or vegetables with you – in small pots in a kitchen, on a balcony, or in your garden if there’s space.

Ways children can help with food shopping:

  • Helping to find the food on your shopping list in the supermarket.
  • Helping with packing up and putting away the shopping.

Children may be more likely try new foods/ meals if they have helped to choose and prepare it. Even young children can get involved with some of the food prep and cooking at home. Here are some ways children can help:

  • Finding the ingredients you need around your kitchen.
  • Washing ingredients, such as fruits and vegetables.
  • Choosing utensils.
  • Reading recipes.
  • Weighing ingredients.
  • Chopping ingredients (for older children, safely supervised).
  • Mashing ingredients with a fork or potato masher e.g bananas / potatoes.
  • Stirring or mixing ingredients (at room temp for younger children).
  • Spreading ingredients such as vegetable oil spread or soft cheese.
  • Keeping track of timings (using a timer to help if you have one).
  • Helping to dish up meals.

Note: Always supervise children when preparing and cooking with food.

Mealtimes can make great social occasions. Try to sit at a table together whenever possible, eat the same food together and enjoy some family time when you can focus on each other outside of your busy days.

Getting used to family meals from a young age is great for babies and young children’s social development. They are also a great opportunity to start setting routines, and for you to role model healthier eating habits for your children. Try to make mealtimes calm, relaxed and positive. This is a great time for children to develop an enjoyment and interest in the food they eat, setting up good eating habits for the future.

Here are a few things children can help with during mealtimes:

  • Setting / laying the table
  • Self-serving some of the food for themselves (great to encourage younger children when they can)
  • Clearing the table and tidying up afterwards

Mealtimes are also a great opportunity for children to learn and develop new skills too. Here are some things children can learn when they are helping:

  • Hygiene – washing hands with soap and water before food prep, eating and after going to the toilet.
  • Learn about food and healthy eating
  • Table manners
  • Social interaction
  • Independence – choosing meals, feeding themselves, self-serving their food
  • Responsibility – laying table / clearing up afterwards
  • Physical development – chopping, mixing, handling cutlery, feeding themselves
  • Communication skills
  • Cooking skills