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Meal Planning & Prep with Kids - Is It Done Yet?

Meal Planning and Preparation with Kids - Is It Done Yet?, Nebraska Extension Acreage Insights - May 2017,
All four of my kids “helping” in the kitchen. Do you think the three not flipping pancakes are telling my 11 year old how to do it or cheering her on?

Many would think that a busy mom of four, who happens to be a Registered Dietitian, would have it figured out when it comes to getting her kids to eat healthy and help in the kitchen. There are some days when it is smooth sailing, other days it’s not so easy.

One Meal a Month
My New Year’s resolution this year involved making it a point that my kids would be in charge of at least one meal each month. We have made it through the first few months, and all is going well. My five year old son helps with age appropriate tasks such as setting the table, rinsing produce, measuring ingredients, and clearing the table. The three older girls are in charge of planning an entire meal including the entree and sides (usually a fruit and/or vegetable). Once they know what they want to serve they are responsible for all of the steps.

I know they are only 13, 11, and 9, but my goals for this experience are:

  1. to help them understand that food doesn’t just appear on the table,
  2. to understand there are many steps involved in preparing a meal, and
  3. to teach them to fly solo in the kitchen so they can cook their own food (and clean up after themselves).

Their roommates and spouses will hopefully thank me later.

Learning Life Skills
They are learning and honing many skills, including meal preparation, problem-solving, measuring, reading recipes, multi-tasking, and time management. They are responsible for looking at our family calendar and deciding what night they are free and able to make a meal, and determining what they need to do ahead of time. One example, taking out hamburger the day before so it is thawed for them to make tacos the next night.

So far, they have made some of their favorite recipes. My oldest daughter, who is 13, made her meal with one day to spare in the month of February, but she got it done.

My youngest daughter loves chicken tortilla soup, which was a great recipe for her to make. She was able to put all of the ingredients in the slow cooker in the morning, and her supper was done when we got home from school and work. She added some fresh fruit and drinks (water or milk) and “dinner was served”. She chose to make a macaroni and hamburger skillet meal her second time around. When dad complimented her on a good meal, she said “I know Dad, I made it”.

Another learning opportunity: confidence is good, but she also needed to say “thank you”. We had a blast in the kitchen. She did a great job of working on every task from using the can opener to stirring her skillet meal. We also did a little singing and dancing, which helped keep things fun.

Meal Planning & Prep with Kids, Nebraska Extension Acreage Insights May 2017. Shyann working basic kitchen skills; using a can opener and carefully adding noodles to a pan of boiling water.

My 11 year old made pancakes. Who doesn’t love breakfast for supper? She was pretty funny. Some of her comments that turned into perfect “teachable moments” were:

  • “I’m getting pancake everywhere!” – Learning to pour pancake batter on the griddle takes practice.
  • “Is it done yet?” – She got a quick lesson on knowing when to flip pancakes. Hint: Look for bubbles in the batter.
  • “I got pancake in my hair.” – Ummm, pull your hair back in a pony. And me telling her, you get to eat that one.
  • “I can’t!” – Yes, you can…you just flipped the other four pancakes. You can do it!
  • “Is this enough water?” Making pancakes was a great way to help her learn that you can always add more, but you can’t necessarily remove it. In this case it was adding liquid to the pancake mix to get the right consistency.

I Learned...
I’ll be honest, I have loved and hated this learning experience at the same time. I love spending time with my kids in kitchen, but time seems to be an issue and they don’t seem to want to do anything extra. I guess it’s all part of the teaching (and learning) process. I want them to understand food doesn’t just appear on the table; it’s a process and often times I do it by myself while they are doing homework or playing. I also want them to understand that the process doesn’t stop once the food is on the table, there is also clean up. They have always been good at clearing their dishes, but it’s been a constant battle to get them to clear the rest of the items (sides, condiments, other dirty dishes), wash the dishes that don’t go in the dishwasher, and wipe the counter and table off.

Last, but not least, I want them to have more respect for the cook. It’s not always hard work, but it still takes time to put a meal on the table. It’s important to me that my kids be respectful, especially when they don’t like something that is being served, and use their manners. Bottom line, parents shouldn’t feel like they need to do all the meal planning, prepping, cooking and cleaning. Teaching our children those skills will benefit them for the rest of their life. Plus, they are more likely to try something they’ve helped prepare, and cooking with them is fun.

Meal Planning & Prep with Kids, Nebraska Extension Acreage Insights May 2017. Sitting down to enjoy a family meal is pretty special, especially when you have had help in the kitchen.

Suggestions for Cooking with Your Kids
If you’re interested in trying this in your own home, start with letting the child pick out one of their favorite meals. Help them think through what ingredients they need (do you already have them at home or do you need to purchase them at the store?), and when and how they are going to make their meal. Be sure you allow enough time and have fun!

One of our favorite family recipes is the chicken tortilla soup I mentioned above. It is made in the slow cooker, so is a great one for kids to start with. They can work on reading a recipe, measuring, and using a can opener.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

  • Servings: 8
  • Time: 8hrs
  • Difficulty: easy

Credit: Sehi Family Recipe Ingredients

  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 2 (15 oz.) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 (10 oz.) cans diced tomatoes with green chilies
  • 1 c. salsa
  • 1 (4 oz.) can chopped green chilies
  • 1 (14.5 oz.) can tomato sauce
  • Tortilla chips (optional)
  • Shredded cheese (optional)


  1. Combine all ingredients, except chips and shredded cheese, in a slow cooker.
  2. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours in a slow cooker.
  3. Remove chicken from slow cooker. Shred chicken using two forks. Put chicken pieces back into slow cooker. 4. If desired, serve with tortilla chips and shredded cheese.

Nutrition Information per Serving: Calories 169, Total Fat 3 g, Saturated Fat 1 g (2% DV), Cholesterol 43 mg (14% DV), Sodium 665 mg (29% DV), Total Carbohydrate 18 g (14% DV), Dietary Fiber 7 g (28% DV), Sugars 7 g, Protein 18 g, Vitamin A 6%, Vitamin C 24%, Calcium 8%, Iron 13%.

Meal Planning & Prep with Kids, Nebraska Extension Acreage Insights May 2017. Camry concentrating on making the perfect pancakes. She did a great job flipping them! She did pull her hair back after getting pancake in her hair.


  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 25mins
  • Difficulty: easy

Credit: Sehi Family Recipe Ingredients

  • 1/2 c. skim milk
  • 2 T. margarine, melted
  • 1 egg
  • 1 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • 1/2 c. blueberries


  1. In a large bowl, combine milk, margarine, and egg. Mix well.
  2. Add the flour, baking powder, and sugar to the milk mixture. Stir just enough to wet the flour. Add more milk, if necessary, to make the batter about as thick as heavy cream.
  3. Gently mix in the blueberries.
  4. Cook pancakes on a lightly greased griddle or frying pan. Cook until the pancakes are full of bubbles and the under-surface is lightly browned. Lift with a spatula and flip over. Lightly brown the other side.

Nutrition Information per Serving: Calories 220, Total Fat 8 g, Saturated Fat 2 g (10% DV), Cholesterol 60 mg (21% DV), Sodium 340 mg (14% DV), Total Carbohydrate 31 g (10% DV), Dietary Fiber 1 g (5% DV), Sugars 6 g, Protein 6 g, Vitamin A 8%, Vitamin C 2%, Calcium 20%, Iron 10%.

Post reviewed by Donnia Behrends, MS, RD, LMNT and Morgan Hartline MS, RD, LMNT. Photos by Natalie Sehi.

Natalie Sehi
Natalie Sehi
Extension Educator - Nutrition & Health Sciences

Natalie is the Nutrition Education Program Curriculum Coordinator in Nutrition and Health Sciences for University of Nebraska - Lincoln.

Contact Natalie at:
110 Ruth Leverton Hall
Lincoln NE 68583-0808
(402) 472-6528

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