By Trisha Gedon
Stillwater, OK – With summertime in full swing, many parents and caregivers find themselves often hearing, “I’m hungry, can I have a snack?” Parents of older children who are able to stay home alone for several hours each day are concerned about the types of healthy snacks their children can safely prepare on their own.
Since good nutrition starts at a young age, parents are encouraged to get their children in the kitchen to help prepare snacks and simple meals.
“Getting kids in the kitchen early has proven to be one way to get today’s youth started down a path of healthy eating,” said Jenni Klufa, assistant state specialist for youth programs through Oklahoma State University Extension’s Community Nutrition Education Program. “Research shows that even picky eaters are more willing to explore different foods if they’ve helped shop for and prepare them.”
CNEP’s KIK It Up! program now features many healthy snack options online for youth. The recipes have easy-to-follow directions and are geared toward children ages 6 to 15. The recipes are divided into age groups and correspond with age-appropriate kitchen skills. Most children should be able to prepare them on their own or with a little help from a parent, caregiver or older sibling. One simple recipe that’s a healthy and refreshing snack in the summertime and easy for children to make is the Red, White and Blue Fruit Burrito.
Klufa said children as young as 3 years old can have a role in helping prepare foods. Here are some appropriate tasks for children 3-5 years old:
- Wash fruits and vegetables in a sink with cool tap water
- Wipe the table
- Mix ingredients in easy-to-mix batters
- Brush cooking oil with a clean pastry brush on bread, vegetables and other foods
- Cut out cookies with fun shaped cookie cutters
Tasks for children 6-7 years old:
- Use a vegetable peeler to peel raw potatoes, mangoes and other fruits and vegetables
- Break eggs into a bowl and wash hands after handling the eggs
- Snap green beans
- Load the dishwasher
- Shuck corn and rinse before cooking
- Rinse and cut parsley or green onions with clean, blunt kitchen scissors
Tasks for children 8-9 years old:
- Open cans with a can opener
- Pound chicken on a cutting board
- Beat eggs
- Check temperature of meat with a food thermometer
- Juice a lemon or orange
Tasks for children 10-12 years old:
- Boil pasta
- Microwave foods
- Follow a recipe
- Bake foods in the oven
- Simmer ingredients on the stove
- Slice and chop vegetables
Pam Dennis has served as a nutrition education assistant for 16 years and currently works with children in Pottawatomie County.
“Sometimes parents hesitate to let kids help in the kitchen,” Dennis said. “It might be messier, but these kids are learning skills they’ll use for the rest of their life. When I’m working with a group of kids, they get really excited when they know we’ll be doing hands-on activities.”
Dennis has discovered that the students participating in her KIK It Up! class are more receptive to the foods they make themselves compared to foods she may bring in already prepared.
“This is where they take ownership of the foods they’re making and are much more willing to try new things,” she said. “We even make edible play-doh they can play with first, then eat later.”
Children can get some food perceptions from outside the family and develop preconceived ideas about certain foods. Lori Evans, NEA in Kay County, said one way she combats this during her lessons is by discussing some of the children’s favorite snacks and where they fit into the USDA’s MyPlate categories.
“This program helps introduce kids to new foods they’ve never tried.” Evans said. “We talk about their favorite snacks, and they think fruit chews are a good choice because they have the word fruit in them.”
Evans said kids love sharing with their families what they’re learning in the KIK It Up! program.
“It’s a lot of fun to watch even the shy kids get involved,” she said. “They get so excited to make their own snacks and try the new combinations of different food groups.”
For additional information about KIK It Up! and healthy snacks for youth, contact Klufa at 405-744-9929 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition to KIK It Up!, CNEP also offers other nutritional programs, including adult nutrition education and Farm to You, as well as a school nutrition education curriculum.
OSU Extension uses research-based information to help all Oklahomans solve local issues and concerns, promote leadership and manage resources wisely throughout the state’s 77 counties. Most information is available at little to no cost.