When my youngest was a toddler, I handed him a bunch of basil one night and told him he could "help" me cook. Barely talking, he dutifully plucked leaves off the stems (the best he could) and was contented for 10 minutes! From there we built the dinnertime -- and cooking time -- into a family affair. His older brother helps to select the meals, pick out vegetables, meats, etc. at the store and we assemble meals as a team, all the while talking and, often, laughing. Here are 10 tips to try in your home:
1. Turn off the television at cooking time and mealtime. TV is a big distraction when you want family conversation and interaction.
2. Share responsibility for all aspects of the meal with your children. Start by deciding together what you'll be having.
3. Shop for ingredients with your children. Give them an opportunity to pick the vegetables, meats and starches for themselves.
4. Establish a budget and make them stick to it. Have kids compare prices of fresh and prepared foods.
5. Start with recipes you know they love. They are more likely to be interested.
6. For apathetic eaters, start by having them make dessert. While they are working on that, engage their help with the main meal.
7. Make the dinner table sacred by keeping it permanently set with a tablecloth and cloth napkins (all washable). Be sure not to let the table get piled with mail and things that need to get put away.
8. Give dinner a ceremonial aspect. Wait until all family members are seated and served before permitting anyone to eat.
9. Make it clear to your children that they can have your attention, but only if they are in the kitchen. Don't let them call to you from all parts of the house.
10. Keep dinnertime discussion (during cooking and eating) to topics that will be of interest to your children. This is not the time to get down on them about homework or problems in school.