7 Simple Low-risk Ways to Involve Kids in the Kitchen

Kids benefit tremendously from helping in the kitchen. Kids who help in the kitchen are more likely to try healthy foods and participate in family meals. They are also learning valuable cooking skills and building self-confidence as they contribute to the family. I try to frequently involve my kids in baking and cooking for these reasons.

But sometimes I am too short on time or patience to really let my kids (ages 6, 4, and 2) be fully involved. Or sometimes the child who wants to be involved is under two or just beginning to help in the kitchen.  At those moments, I need a simple way to let them feel involved that still let's me get the job done quickly and successfully. Here are some easy, low-stakes way that I let the kids help me in the kitchen.

Avoiding Toxins in the Backyard

School's out and that means that my kids are spending a lot more time in our backyard. I am a big fan of outdoor play for kids and adults. Unfortunately, there are several ways that we adults inadvertently make our backyards less of an ideal play location for our children by introducing toxic chemicals. Here are some ways you can make sure that your backyard stays safe and eco-friendly this summer.

Pesticide-free Bug Control

In my area, hot weather means bugs. They sneak in your home looking for moisture, shelter from the heat, and, of course, some morsels to eat. Just the other day the Pesticide Salesman stopped by my door to let me know that two of my neighbors were spraying for ants and spiders and did I want to sign up too (at a discount, of course!) so that they didn't all run into my house when he, "flushed them out" of the neighbors' yards and crawl spaces. Turns out I'm much more worried about the neurotoxins in pesticides than ants and spiders, so I turned him down. But I'm not a huge fan of bugs in my house. I've had ant, fruit fly, and cockroach invasions and lived to tell the tale, without the use of toxic pesticides! This is my tried-and-true ant bait/ trap (keep away from little hands and animals), and a non-toxic spray we use around the perimeter of our house to discourage cockroaches. House spiders are generally welcome at my home! Check out Beyond Pesticides for safe alternatives to toxic pest control.

The Non-toxic Eco-friendly Sandbox

Does Play Sand Cause Cancer?

Last summer I purchased a used rigid plastic sand box with a cover on Craig's List. Once I had the sandbox, all I had to do was buy some sand. Unfortunately, this decision was not as simple as I had hoped.

If you live in California, you've possibly seen the Prop 65 cancer warning on bags of play sand. That's because the super cheap fifty pound bag of sand you can pick up at home improvement stores or garden centers isn't actually sand. According to Healthy Child Healthy World, "'Play sand' is a manufactured material made from ground quartz that can contain carcinogenic crystalline silica and a mineral called tremolite, which is related to asbestos."  You can read more about the classification of crystalline silica as a human lung carcinogen in this OSHA document.

Some emphasize that the risk is mainly an occupational hazard for sand blasters who experience intense and prolonged exposure to the crystalline silica dust. While children certainly aren't subject to the same degree of exposure as sand blasters, parents still may not be comfortable with their children inhaling respiratory irritants linked to cancer. The issue isn't the silica, which is present in all sand, but the size of the particles. Finer particles can be inhaled into the lungs, causing respiratory irritation and an increased risk of mutations and tumors. So if you see a dust cloud above the sand box, you have an issue.

Non-toxic Sand

Nature in Our Backyard: Hummingbird Chicks Leaving the Nest

I've been wanting to link up with Green Bean's Spot the Pollinator series, but haven't had a chance to take many photos of pollinators. But then I remembered the miracle we witnessed during June 2012 in our last home. And which, incidentally, I have never posted about (except a brief mention in this post on Green Phone Booth).

Two years ago, my kids and I got to watch a hummingbird build her nest right under the (plastic fake wood) lattice over the back patio of our rental home. We then watched that hummingbird sit on the eggs in her nest. I had never seen hummingbird wings as anything other than a blur before this experience. Eventually we saw little tiny hummingbird heads poking their heads over the edge of the nest as their mama brought them food.

Make Time Every Day to Do the Things You Love

On a walk around 7:30 pm. The kids should have been getting ready for bed, but oh well.

Once upon a time I taught elementary school for many years in Los Angeles. Although working with kids was often rewarding, there was plenty about teaching that I did not enjoy. Some of the required curriculum was decidedly lackluster. Then there was the endless paperwork, the depressing home situations, the demoralizing staff meetings (your test scores still suck!), the discipline issues, the test prep, and the staff politics. Worst of all, I felt like a failure almost every day. In the beginning, I just didn't know what I was doing. And even later when I did, there was simply not enough time in the day to do everything, and certainly never enough time to do it well.

But despite the overwhelming pressures of teaching in low-income under-performing schools (often in danger of being "taken over" by the state), I decided for my own sanity to spend some time each day doing things that I enjoyed and considered important, even if nobody else cared that I did them (or even if my principal and other higher ups actively discouraged me from doing them). I read aloud to my students every day. We exercised every day. And we talked about poetry and sang songs every single day.

Turns out that learning to cope with an incessant sense of failure and always having more to get done than can possibly get done were excellent preparation for being a parent. Now as a parent of three little ones, when the sense of failure becomes especially overwhelming, I remember this lesson from my teaching days: make time every day to do the things that you love.


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