You scramble to serve healthy meals at a reasonable hour, only to be met by your preschoolers — one of whom will always declare in a matter-of-fact tone, “I don’t like this.” No matter how loving you are, the phrase, “Fine, then you can make your own meal,” has crossed your mind, (or even your lips), multiple times. The truth is, with proper instruction, even preschool-aged children are fully capable of making their own meals (with supervision, of course). And who knows, with the labor they put into the task, maybe they’ll dive right in and say, “Yummy.”
Sandwiches are one of the simplest meals your children can make, and they require minimal-to-no adult assistance. How much instruction you’re able to give, and how messy a kitchen you can tolerate will determine the type of sandwiches your kids can make. If they’ll eat, let them make it. Kids can spread warm peanut butter on bread using a children’s knife and add a layer of sliced bananas or berries on top before closing the sandwich. Serve with a side of baby carrots or apple wedges.
Cracker-based meals are great, even for young toddlers because they don’t require the same amount of spreading as bread. Show your younger kids how to place cheese slices over whole wheat crackers and let them add small slices of mini-tomatoes on top. For an even simpler meal, let your kids dip crackers in peanut butter or hummus and add a side of melon balls or fresh berries. Older preschoolers and kindergarteners who’ve mastered the scooping motion can go to town on a handful of crackers and a small bowl of low-fat tuna or chicken salad that you’ve conveniently purchased at the grocer’s beforehand.
Your children can eat roll-ups cold or heated, but, as a meal, they’re fast and require minimal fine motor skills. Let your kids cover a pita or a corn or flour tortilla with chunks of chicken or ground turkey, cheese and veggies slices like sweet pepper and leafs of baby spinach or mushrooms. For younger toddlers, help them roll the pita or tortilla up tightly, otherwise all the food inside will fall out while they’re eating. If you have time, toss the finished roll-ups inside the microwave for 30 seconds, as melted cheese helps the ingredients coalesce and therefore more likely to stick each other and the outermost layer.
There’s no reason that the fast and healthy meals made by your kids have to look pretty. Set out an assembly-line of different foods, each with it’s own tablespoon scoop, and let your kids create their own mixture. Make sure all the foods available go reasonably well together so your kids can’t make some horrendous mixture that they won’t want to eat, like vanilla yogurt and tuna salad. For breakfast, set out bowls of granola, yogurt and fresh fruit. For lunch or dinner, let them mix and match taco meat, refried beans or black beans with shredded cheese, chopped tomatoes, corn and sweet peppers. To ensured balanced nutrition, require your children to include at least one fruit or vegetable in their individual mixture bowl.