Last night, I asked my four year old daughter Samantha to help with dinner preparation. “Will you make a salad tonight for dinner, Sammy?” I said.

Instead of seeing my request as a nag, my daughter became proud that her parent thought she could achieve something she had never done before. At first, Samatha questioned my idea. “You think I can make a salad?” Samantha said.

“Yes, Samantha, you’ll do a great job,” I said, while teaching her to make healthy food choices and instilling a sense of confidence in her cooking skills. 

Healthy Food Tastes Better to Kids When Kids Make It

Before last night, Samantha never ate raw vegetables. Often when asked if she wanted to try a salad at dinner, Samantha would respond, “Yuck!” Carrots made my daughter grimace. Even though I questioned how to help my daughter enjoy healthy food, I saw a huge transformation when I gave her a new responsibility: making the salad for dinner.

Samantha excitedly pulled her chair over to the kitchen counter where I was placing the bowls and the lettuce. Getting to be my little helper was a pleasure. Sitting up on her knees, my daughter carefully placed individual lettuce leaves in the bowls, picking out the slimy leaves. Clearly, the experience helped bring about new discoveries as Samantha embraced her spirit of inquiry and asked which color of lettuce leaves were still good. Samantha observed that some leaves were bright green, some yellow, and some purple. I explained that the color of the leaves didn’t signify whether the leaves were unedible. Feeling the leaves showed whether they had gone bad because a bad leaf would feel slimy. Sorting the lettuce leaves taught my daughter about color recognition, while she also used her tactile senses to discover which leaves had gone bad.

While creating the dish, Samantha decided to sample some raw lettuce. Quickly, a look of happiness spread across her face as she realized that she suddenly liked the taste of lettuce and she couldn’t wait to tell her father. “Daddy, daddy, daddy, I tried lettuce and I liked it!” Samantha said.

My younger daughter Georgiana also wanted to try the lettuce. As Samantha gave Georgiana tiny bits of the lettuce, they both were proud to have achieved trying something new and liking it.

Creating a meal with healthy food was rewarding to my daughter. According to Mayo Clinic, serving a variety of fresh vegetables is healthy for children, but creating a dish for dinner was more than just a lesson in healthy food. Samantha learned the pride of completing a project. Every new skill learned helped improve her confidence. From drizzling the salad dressing to topping off the dish with some Parmesan cheese, Samantha learned the basics of creating a beautiful dish. Learning how to finish a project was an impressive skill for a child to develop.

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Samantha proudly creates her salad dish.

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Samantha’s completed salad

Successfully, Samantha finished making a salad for her father, mother, baby sister, and for herself. Each piece of lettuce my daughter added showed her love for cooking. When Samantha created the salad for her parents, she delicately separated the pieces of already sliced onion and placed the pieces one by one on the salad with an effort to make the plate beautiful. Drizzling the yogurt-based salad dressing, I let Samantha put her hand on top of mine to learn the proper technique to make sure that not too much dressing fell on the plate. As Samantha added the Parmesan cheese to the salad, she was proud to have previously practiced the skill of shaking the cheese on the plate.

While making the salad, Samantha happily participated in being my helper as I prepared the main dish. Sampling a Paleo meatball that was made with almond flour, onions, and grass-fed beef, Samantha exclaimed in delight that I could give her a whole meatball on her plate. Trying the sauce that I had simmered with Portabello mushrooms and onions, Samantha and Georgiana begged for more by the spoonful. Noticing the al dente pasta, which was made in Italy, Samantha politely reminded me to give her a nice portion of spaghetti with her meal.

During dinner, Samantha discovered she didn’t really like the taste of salad dressing, but rather preferred her salad to have plain lettuce. To prove her point, Samantha ate several bunches of plain lettuce as she got her full serving of vegetables.

My big takeaway from the experience is that children enjoy being little helpers. Giving children responsibility reveals to them that they are valued members of the family. When I showed my daughter respect by valuing her contributions to the family, she was more eager to be involved with the dinner preparations. Involving my daughter in a new experience showed to her that I respected her, which helped instill in her a sense of confidence. In the future, whether I want my children to eat healthy food or to clean the house, giving them the freedom to try new things will help them be more self sufficient and to make wise choices independently.

About The Author

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Theresa has been writing since 2010 in magazines and online. Her lifestyle and parenting expertise has been featured in publications, including ShopSmart and Scholastic. She earned an M.Ed in Elementary Education from Vanderbilt as well as a BA in History from Flagler College, and she is a certified teacher.

15 Responses

  1. Valerie

    Isn’t it funny how they like it more when they make it (or at least help)? My son (10 yrs old) loves experimenting in the kitchen; he likes making recipes but he LOVES throwing junk together and calling it a new dish! lol

    Reply
  2. Terrie

    My granddaughter loves plain lettuce, too. She’s 15 now, but she’s liked lettuce since she was your daughter’s age.
    Kids often eat things when they help make them. But I have had times when she made food and refused to touch it. Like when she made Brussels sprouts!

    Reply
  3. Raman

    What fabulous suggestions! I will definitely try to involve my daughter more and more in meal prep as she gets older!

    Reply
  4. Adele

    That is the “blessing” right there! I think it will be so much fun cooking with my children!

    Reply
  5. Jenny

    Look at how proud she looks! I love having Zoë (my 3 year old daughter) help me in the kitchen whenever I can. Most of the time it actually helps me to. 🙂

    Reply
  6. Jaya Pandey

    Theresa that is a great advice. And it goes into my secret diary of valuable tips when it comes to make kids eat healthy stuff.

    Reply
  7. Hannah Bollinger

    This is great! Your daughter looks very proud :). My son loves helping me in the kitchen, and sometimes things take a little longer but it’s such a good experience for kids.

    Reply
  8. Lisa

    You’re so right. My children eat a lot more veggies when they’ve participated in the cooking / dishing up.

    Reply
  9. Stephanie

    This is great! My kids love to help cook and bake. However, my 3 year old is the pickiest of eaters. The less I push, the more he is open to trying things. And he wants to know exactly what everything he’s cooking with is. So maybe this will pay off for me eventually with his eating habits 🙂

    Reply

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