Yesterday I shared a great Mommy idea for you: “Summer Treat: Magic Milkshake”! I put it in my new “category”, “Great Ideas: Mine and Yours”. This great idea was courtesy of my mommy-neighbor, Jennifer.
Cooking/ snacking is just one of the many areas of daily life in parenting/ care-giving that, when utilized to its fullest potential, is an opportunity to share values, to connect, and to strengthen developmental functions with your children. You share “values” through cooking together by talking about the importance of eating healthy foods. You say, “In our family, we take care of our bodies” and “In our family, we help each other in the kitchen.”Perhaps you share a family memory of cooking with your mother or grandmother, and connect by simply saying, “I like to cook with you“. You can share lessons of gratitude and appreciation by talking about where the food came from, being thankful for the farmer who grew the food, etc. You can practice measuring, counting, naming colors, math skills, pre-reading skills and beyond. Cooking together fosters critical and creative thinking, direction-following and problem solving, teamwork and independence. Obviously, you can’t make every meal or snack a “lesson” or you’d never do anything else, but consider being intentional about including your child in the process once a day or once a week.
These particular ideas are focused on fine-motor development. A couple of years ago, I was inspired by an occupational therapist who does lectures on hand-writing and fine motor skills in children. She says that too many kids today are showing up to Kindergarten and 1st grade with underdeveloped fine motor skills, and this inhibits their ability to write or hold a pencil, etc. There are many causes for this, but the main one is not enough REAL play (with dirt, sand, blocks, water, play-do, etc)/ too much virtual play (screen/ game time). Since then in my teaching and parenting, I have become very aware and excited about maximizing children’s opportunities for strengthening fine motor skills, including through food. Here are a few of the simplest, healthiest ways to start with young children that my family enjoys:
- Edamame – I started serving this healthy food to MJ when he was 2, and it’s been a favorite ever since. Sometimes we call it “Eda-Daddy” just for fun. I like to let the kids press the beans out of the pods for strengthening those fine motor muscles. It is a great “job” to give them to keep them busy at the counter. They can also toss in a little salt and stir, and they always eat a lot as they work, which is great! They can also be in charge of taking the empty pods out to the compost pile. (Sometimes I put these in a little snack baggie or cup for a car snack.)
- Grapes – don’t take them off the stems for your kids! Let your tots and kids do this on their own or give them this “job” for the family fruit salad. It is dong the very important work of strengthening those little finger muscles.
- Shrimp – my kids love cooked shrimp, and it is a healthy, summer snack. You can buy the pre-cooked bag of frozen shrimp with peels still on, and just let them thaw out. Then your kids can have fun tearing the legs and peals off. I remember having this important job when I was a girl, as shrimp has always been one of my favorites!
- Pomegranates - The seeds inside this strange and wonderful fruit are delicious and nutritious! Put the aprons on the kids as this can get messy. I cut the fruit in half, set out a couple bowls of water in which to float the fruit and clean the membranes off the seeds. My kids always snack on these as they work! Add to a fruit salad, put in oatmeal or breakfast bread, or put a bag of seeds in the freezer for fun little “ice” cubes in water or juice (and for your pomegranate martini after the kids are in bed, Oprah’s favorite pom martini recipe)
- Cookie cutters with whole wheat tortillas. Let the kids cut out shapes, even roll up with jelly or peanut butter. Any pressing, folding, rolling helps those little muscles.
- Cuties – Let them do the peeling and segmenting. You can say, “Here, let me help you get started.“
- Cutting soft fruit – tots can handle little butter/ spreading knives – bananas, watermelon chunks, kiwi, mango slices, strawberries, etc. Let them decorate a fruit pizza, see my post w/ recipe, or a simpler/ healthier version on a tortilla w/cream cheese spread (I mixed it w/ leftover strawberry icing to make it sweeter, and offered coconut flakes for the “cheese”)