Holiday Mealtime with Kids, Mayhem or Magical


Fall is in the air and it won’t be long before we are looking forward to gathering with extended family for holiday meals.  Holiday meal time can be a time to revisit family favorites as well as trying new foods.  This busy time of the year can be fun and stressful at the same time.  For parents of young children, meal time may bring thoughts of anxiety when they think about traveling, eating unfamiliar foods, and breaking familiar routines and meal time schedules.

Instead of feeling pressured to fit shopping, and cooking homemade meals into this busy holiday schedule, try to involve your young children in these activities as much as possible. Children (of all ages) who cook with adults also learn valuable developmental skills. Everyday moments can turn into teachable lessons and memories that last long after the holidays are over.

Holiday Meal time tips:

  • Take your children grocery shopping

Depending on their age, children as young as 3 or 4 can enjoy this experience if you model and get them involved.  Give them a few choices such as the type of vegetable or fruit, and allow them to weigh things and put them in the cart, or cross items off of your list

  • Cooking with kids

Children will be more likely to try new foods if they are involved in helping to prepare them. Young children love to stir with a spoon, scoop ingredients into a cup, or tear lettuce for the salad. They can help set the table too. This is a time of exploration and learning, so expect a mess once in a while, just model how to clean it up and help them as needed.  A good technique to use with young preschoolers in hand over hand when pouring, teaming together to hit the target.

  • Talk about the food

To encourage children to try new foods, talk about the foods, where it grows, and what it will taste like. Show your enthusiasm for the food when you describe it with colorful language using words like crispy, juicy, sweet, or tangy.

  •  Stick with normal meal patterns

As adults, we may be tempted to eat lighter if we know we are going to a big holiday meal, saving room for what’s to come. It may be best to keep meal patterns as normal as possible for children, including meals and snacks.  By doing so, they will be satisfied until the big meal, and not so disappointed if they see a few unfamiliar items on the plate.

 Give children the game plan

It is important to talk with children ahead of time about what to expect at the holiday meal including the location, who will be there, what they can do when you arrive, where they will likely sit for the meal, and for how long you expect them to sit at the table before they can go and play.  If you take care of preparing them ahead of time, the meal will likely go much smoother.

 Check out this quick reference guide from eXtension on Cooking with Kids and this resource for ideas on Healthy Fun Holiday Treats from Nebraska Extension.

What are some of your favorite ways to include children in holiday meals?


Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator | The Learning Child

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