Once a week, we have an afternoon where my kids are in charge of making their own lunches. Here are ten easy recipes kids can make for themselves, first with a little help and supervision, and eventually on their own.
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Once a week, we have an afternoon where my kids are in charge of making their own lunches. We call it YOYO day– “You’re On Your Own”. My kids, ages 4 to 12, love it. They look forward to it every week, and if we have to miss it for any reason, want to make sure we have it the next day.
The main focuses of our YOYO meals are not precise kitchen training from me. Instead, the two biggest motivations for doing YOYO meals are that my kids would stay motivated to be in the kitchen, and that I would have less on my plate (perhaps to a smaller degree now, but certainly more in the future). If you have kids who are not really interested in cooking, but you want them to get some practice and grow in confidence, giving them a regular opportunity to choose and prepare their own meals can be an easy push. Likewise, if you have a day (or days) you need to have a more hands-off approach to meal time, a YOYO menu could give the kids simple ideas to be able to take on more kitchen responsibility.
Keep reading for 12 recipes that kids can make themselves, tips for implementing YOYO days, and for a free printable YOYO menu that you can print and use in your own home!
12 Easy Recipes Kids Can Make Themselves
(EASIEST) IN THE INSTANT POT
- Instant Pot Box Mac’n’Cheese(so easy, and a favorite of all my kids. even my preschooler can mostly do this on her own, with some help with the buttons).
- Loaded Baked Potato (water + potatoes + the Instant Pot, and you have one of the simplest meals kids can make)
- Butter Garlic Pasta (or Garlic Orzo with Spinach) (this is a bit more involved, but still easy enough for lunch. this is one of my 12yo’s favorite YOYO meals)
- Instant Pot Ramen Noodles (even though my kids do enjoy the cheap packs of ramen, it is so easy to make a homemade version in the Instant Pot with ready-to-go ingredients)
ON THE STOVE OR OVEN
- Toasted Deli Sandwiches
- Quesadillas (any age can assemble a quesadilla, and younger kids can have help using the stove)
- Scrambled/Fried Eggs & Toast (eggs are always a simple and filling option)
- Sheetpan Nachos (for YOYO meals, the kids make individual plates of nachos by putting chips on an oven-safe plate, top them with cheese, and then I put it under the broiler for them. Once the cheese is melted, they can top with whatever additions they prefer)
- Smoothies (quick and filling and so fun of vitamins!)
- Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwiches (the quintessential easy kid lunch)
- Build a Salad (have some salad dressings ready to go, and putting together a personal salad is very easy)
- Tuna Salad(just stir together a handful of kid-friendly ingredients and serve with crackers!)
YOYO DAY TIPS
I’ve shared on the blog before about making it easier, or at least more manageable to get your kids started in the kitchen.Teaching kids to cook, inviting them in to help, won’t look the same for every home, or even every season in your own home.
But the smallest moments of training, consistently done here and there, can add up to competency to be your sous chefs, and eventually for kids to be their own chefs, preparing their own food.
The great thing about YOYO days is giving kids ownership and excitement to make their own choices and prepare their own food. They start off with knowing that you believe that they are capable, and gradually, they become more and more capable.
TIP #1: Everyone can participate at their own level.
None of my kids want to be exempt from YOYO days, so my four-year-old makes her own lunch too, just with more supervision and help as needed. Some of her favorites are nachos and quesadillas, which she can assemble easily, then I help her manage the cooking process.
All of the items on the YOYO menu are very easily prepared, some in the Instant Pot, some on the stove/oven, and some without any needed heat. I try to be nearby to offer help as needed and make sure they are being safe, remaining as hands-off as I can be.
TIP #2: Don’t stress their choices.
One thing I (mostly) do not worry about on YOYO days are what the kids are eating. They can have all carbs and cheese for lunch if they want. They can have food that I wouldn’t normally prepare. This is their chance to exercise independence, try new things, and learn from experience.
TIP #3: Keep easy, convenient ingredients on hand.
Trying to keep ingredients on hand that require minimal preparation before cooking can be less intimidating for kids. Pre-shredded cheese, crumbled bacon, box macaroni, etc. Even if kids are capable of doing more, the clean up after a big preparation would be overwhelming for everyone.
TIP #4: For older kids, YOYO days can be good practice at reading a recipe.
My older kids are kitchen-savvy enough to read and follow many recipes, especially ones they’re already familiar with. This past week, my oldest son made Garlic Orzo with Spinach and Bacon in the Instant Pot. I enjoyed half of what he made for lunch!
Kids who are not new to cooking their own food might even want to experiment with their own variations and recipes. YOYO days can be a great opportunity for that.
TIP #5: Limit the options. Make it consistent.
We have chosen to make every Friday lunch a YOYO day. This works well for our schedule because at the end of the week, I need a break, and we are almost always home on Friday afternoons since we have outings other days of the week.
Your YOYO days might not be weekly, but making them a regular part of your family life will give your kids the experience they need to see improvement in their skills.
And finally, giving specific, limited options will greatly help the YOYO process too. (Limited options/curated menus also help adults in meal planning too!) I created a menu specifically for YOYO days so that my kids would consider more variety than the one or two things they’re most inclined to pick. Besides, it’s helpful if you don’t have ingredients for one dish– there are several other options to pick from.
You can print your own copy of the YOYO menu to use in your kitchen. I laminated ours and have it ready to go for YOYO Fridays– and any other occasions where I need to tell my kids they’re on their own for lunch or dinner.
I hope that this post is helpful! I am so passionate about kids in the kitchen, however little or much. It’s good in the long run for everyone, a lighter load for the parents, and kids who will know their way around a kitchen after they leave the nest!
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