STILLWATER – With summer in full swing, many parents and caregivers often hear, “I’m hungry, can I have a snack?” Parents of older children, who may be left home alone for several hours each day, are concerned about which species of healthy snacks your children can safely prepare on their own.
Because good nutrition starts at a young age, parents are encouraged to bring their children into the kitchen to help prepare snacks and simple meals.
“Getting kids into the kitchen early has proven to be one way to get today’s youth on the healthy eating journey,” said Jenni Klufa, associate state specialist in youth programs for the Oklahoma State University Extension’s Community Nutrition Education Program. “Research shows that even picky eaters are more willing to try different foods once they’ve helped shop and prepare them.”
KIK It Up! The program now offers many healthy snacking options online for teens. The recipes are easy to follow and are aimed at children aged 6 to 15 years. The recipes are divided into age groups and correspond to age-appropriate cooking skills. Most children should be able to prepare them on their own or with a little help from a parent, caregiver, or older sibling. A simple recipe that’s a healthy and refreshing summertime snack and easy to make for kids is the Red, White, and Blue Fruit Burrito.
Klufa said that children as young as 3 can play a role in food preparation. Here are some suitable activities for children aged 3-5:
• Wash fruits and vegetables in a sink with cold tap water
• Wipe the table
• Mix ingredients into easy-to-mix batters
• Brush cooking oil onto bread, vegetables, and other foods with a clean pastry brush
• Cut out cookies with fun shaped cookie cutters
Tasks for children from 6-7 years:
• Use a vegetable peeler to peel raw potatoes, mangoes and other fruits and vegetables
• Crack eggs into a bowl and wash hands after handling eggs
• Snap green beans
• To fill the dishwasher
• Peel corn and rinse before cooking
• Wash the parsley or spring onions and cut with clean, blunt kitchen scissors
Tasks for children aged 8-9 years:
• Open cans with a can opener
• Beat the chicken on a cutting board
• Beat eggs
• Check the meat temperature with a food thermometer
• Juice a lemon or orange
Tasks for children aged 10-12:
• Cook pasta
• Food in the microwave
• Follow a prescription
• Bake food in the oven
• Let the ingredients simmer on the stove
• Slice and chop vegetables
Pam Dennis has been a Nutrition Education Assistant for 16 years and currently works with children in Pottawatomie County.
“Sometimes parents are reluctant to let kids help in the kitchen,” says Dennis. “It might be messier, but these kids are learning skills they will use for the rest of their lives. When I work with a group of children, they are very happy to know that we are going to do hands-on activities.”
Dennis found that the students participating in her KIK It Up! Class are more receptive to the foods they prepare themselves than to foods they may bring with them already prepared.
“Here they take ownership of the food they prepare and are much more willing to try new things,” she said. “We even make edible play dough that they can play with and eat later.”
Children may get some food perceptions from outside the family and develop preconceived notions about certain foods. Kay County NEA Lori Evans said that one way she combats this during her classes is to discuss some of the kids’ favorite snack foods and say where they fit into the USDA’s MyPlate categories.
“This program helps kids learn about new foods they’ve never tried before,” Evans said. “We’re talking about their favorite snack foods and they think fruit chews are a good choice because they carry the word fruit with them.”
Evans said kids love sharing with their families what they see on the KIK It Up! Program.
“It’s a lot of fun to see even the shy kids getting involved,” she said. “They are so excited to make their own snacks and try the new combinations of different food groups.”
Learn more about KIK It Up! and healthy snacks for teens, contact Klufa at 405-744-9929 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition to KIK It Up! CNEP also offers other nutrition programs, including nutrition education for adults and Farm to You, as well as a nutrition education curriculum for schools.
OSU Extension uses research-based information to help all Oklahoma residents solve local problems and concerns, foster leadership, and wisely manage resources across the state’s 77 counties. Most information is available at little or no cost.