Weekends, school breaks, and summers are the perfect time to teach your children how to prepare their own food. This not only fosters independence, but equips each of your kids how to survive and thrive on their own.
Besides, what Mama hasn’t noticed how proud a child is after they complete an independent task like tying their shoes or brushing their teeth? Offer more opportunities for those encouraging moments by training your kids in the kitchen.
First, review the basics of kitchen safety to your children. Don’t assume they know the proper procedures, even if your son has baked with you for years or if your daughter is always in the kitchen while you’re cooking dinner.
- Don’t handle sharp knives or scissors without an adult present and watching.
- Don’t use the stove, oven, blender, or other appliance without an adult present.
- If there is an emergency, call the adult into the room or dial 9-1-1.
Of course, these rules can be modified depending on your child’s ability, age, and responsibility level. You know your children better than anyone else, so set the standards that work best for your family.
Other helpful topics to review include:
- Close open bags with a chip clip, store open food in a container or zippered bag, and place food in the fridge or pantry (depending on the item).
- Teach kids how to properly use the microwave.
- Show your children where necessary items are, such as cutting boards, appropriate knives to use (like a butter knife), or the food they can eat.
- Don’t forget to educate your children how to wash dishes, load items into the dishwasher, and clean the counters after they finish lunch!
12 Foods your child can independently prepare for lunch
Now that the rules and instructions are complete, it’s time to make these foods with your kids! You may need to prepare each of these items a few times before your child fully grasps how to prepare it alone.
If it’s helpful, take pictures or write down a basic recipe for your child to follow. Store the photos in an album on their tablet, or keep a kids recipe binder somewhere handy in your kitchen.
1 – Sandwiches
Peanut butter and jelly is a classic sandwich, and often the first one that many kids learn to make on their own. It’s two slices of bread with any amount of peanut butter or jelly spread on the bread. Hard to mess up! For little ones who don’t like crust, have a supply of cookie cutters that make fun shapes and remove the crust from their sandwich. If possible, show your kids how to feed the crust scraps to animals or a compost bin.
If your kid isn’t a fan of pb and j, try tuna (from an easy-to-open pouch or a can with a pull-tab) or lunch meat. Don’t forget to show your child the mustard, mayo, cheese, or spinach. Not: Teach your kids how to shake the mustard bottle before squeezing it on the bread to avoid the separated liquids.
2 – Turkey and cheese roll ups
If gluten is an issue, or if your child simply doesn’t like sandwiches, he/she can make these turkey and cheese roll ups all alone! Start with a slice of turkey (or any kind of lunch meat). Layer with cheese (and spinach or mustard if desired). Roll up like a taquito.
Similar to traditional sandwiches, your child can’t really mess this up. Allow your daughter to pile on extra cheese – eventually, she will learn what is the right amount. Let your son use a few slices of meat – over time he will discover the perfect balance.
3 – Quesadillas (in the microwave)
Next on the list of food that your child can independently prepare is quesadillas in the microwave. If your child is older or knows how to wisely use the stove, you can teach your child how to make this in a skillet. But the basics are the same: dump shredded cheese between two tortillas. For the non-picky eaters, add diced bell peppers, tomatoes, avocado, salsa, or beans onto the tortilla with the cheese. Microwave for a few seconds, until the cheese, is melted.
4 – Pita pizzas or bagel bites
It’s unusual to find a kid who doesn’t like pizza. Which is why pizza had to be on this list! Start with either a slice of pita bread or a plain bagel (sliced). Your child can add a few spoons of jarred tomato sauce, then shredded cheese, and top with pepperoni if desired. Microwave for a few seconds until the cheese melts and the bread is warmed.
For older children, teach them how to use a broiler or countertop convection oven.
5 – Chips and salsa or guacamole
Sometimes kids are too busy to sit and eat a long lunch, but their rumbling bellies need some fuel. For those afternoons, chips and salsa or guacamole are the perfect lunch. Pair with fruit and the meal is complete!
6 – Carrots and hummus
Baby carrots come pre-washed and ready to eat, making them friendly for kids. Hummus can be bought in a small container that kids can easily open. Combine the two for a lunch that provides a serving of vegetables and protein.
If your child is able, he/she can cut other vegetables like bell peppers, cucumbers, or celery to dip into the hummus. Or, he/she can add herbs and spices to the hummus (like garlic powder or pesto).
7 – Cheese and crackers
As a busy Mama, I often find myself eating a plate of cheese and crackers with a side of fruit for lunch. There seem to be more varieties of crackers than cereal, so you won’t be at a loss to find one that your kids prefer. The same is true of cheese. Little kids can open cheese sticks without any trouble, while older children can cut slices off a block using a basic butter knife.
8 – Yogurt and granola
Speaking of variety, find which flavors of yogurt your kids enjoy. Avoid the chocolate ones since you don’t want them to believe lunch includes a sweet treat. Much like cheese, younger kids can open a single-serving on their own, while older children can scoop yogurt out of a family-sized container. Toppings like granola, nuts, or fresh fruit make a filling lunch that any kid can make independently!
9 – Oatmeal
Who said that oatmeal is only a breakfast item? (Plus, breakfast can be eaten at lunchtime for those sleepy kids who don’t roll out of bed until just before lunch). The instant packets require water to be heated up in a bowl before the oats are mixed in. Educate your child on how to use a measuring cup, how long to microwave the water, and how to remove the bowl carefully (possibly with hot pads). They will know how to mix in the oats and eat up!
10 – Nut butter, granola, raisin wraps
Here’s a variety of the traditional wrap that fuels little bodies for the entire afternoon. Take a wrap or tortilla. Spread it with nut butter. Sprinkle on granola or raisins. Wrap up and enjoy. This pairs well with a smoothie or fruit. Note: This is so filling that some kids may only eat half at one time. The other half can be stored in a zippered bag for the next day!
11 – Cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches
Most kids enjoy variety, and this lunch offers it. Spread cream cheese between two slices of cucumber. Flavored cream cheese tastes wonderful, so get adventurous! And you can do this with more than just cucumbers: carrot rounds, zucchini, yellow squash, and crackers are yummy as well.
Note: A parent may need to slice these vegetables in advance and store in the fridge for your child to use. Older kids can cut cucumbers or zucchini alone since they are soft and don’t require a sharp knife.
12 – Peanut butter and crackers (or bananas)
Nothing says lunchtime better than peanut butter. We started this list of lunch foods that your child can make alone with a classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich, so it’s only appropriate that we end our list with a peanut butter and cracker sandwich! Buttery round Ritz crackers are the best choice for these mini sandwiches, but bananas are an excellent alternative for kids who love fruit or have a wheat allergy.
Teach your child how to make their own lunch!
Mama, you are your child’s greatest teacher. Invite your kids into the kitchen this week; teach and model how to make these foods so that your children can gain independence and prepare their own lunch. You’ll be amazed how this simple exercise frees up ten minutes of your day!
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