Most of us are spending a lot more time at home these days, so why not use this opportunity to create great memories, strengthen family ties, and build life-long healthy habits in the kitchen with your kids? After all, kids love learning new skills, and teaching them how to prepare part or all of a meal will build self-confidence and even encourage picky eaters to try new foods. There are lots of kid-friendly cookbooks and resources available online, including Yavapai Regional Medical Center’s Your Healthy Kitchen. (Videos, recipes and more are online at YRMCHealthConnect.org/Your-Healthy-Kitchen.)
Kids really love to cook, even if they are simply stirring, measuring, or chopping a vegetable, and if your children take part in preparing meals, they’ll be more excited to eat them. In addition, when kids help you with meal planning and grocery shopping, the buy-in is even greater. Even simple, time-tested rituals, like lighting candles, setting the table, waiting for everyone to be seated before digging in, and expressing gratitude for the meal, builds life-long positive connections with family and food.
The folks at FamilyCook Productions – pioneers in culinary-focused nutrition education for all ages – have studied the benefits of cooking with kids for decades. They encourage parents to involve kids in cooking as much as possible, from simply shaking up vinaigrette and tossing a salad, to chopping, grating, and more. They offer parents three important tips to remember:
- Don’t worry about the mess
- Let go of perfection
- Enjoy the process and the results will be great
FamilyCook Productions offers wonderful resources online (familycookproductions.org), including recipes and one of my favorites: 8 Easy Tips to Move Beyond Nuggets and Mac ‘N’ Cheese. They also published an easy cookbook called Get Your Family Eating Right, by Lynn Fredericks and Mercedes Sanchez. The cookbook features simple, family friendly recipes; tips and words of wisdom about creating and enjoying family meals; and even a 30-day plan designed to get you and your kids in the kitchen more often. They advocate using mealtime as a way to explore the world from your kitchen, and to broaden the flavors and textures of food that your children accept and enjoy.
Cooking with kids is also guaranteed to increase a child’s interest in, and willingness to try new foods. For example, if you told your kids you were making cauliflower crust pizza tonight for dinner, they might just make a face. But, if you invite them into the kitchen to make homemade pizza with you, chances are, the experience will be much different. Need proof? Check out the YRMC Your Healthy Kitchen episode with kids from Coyote Springs Elementary School making cauliflower crust pizza with homemade pesto. (Visit YRMCHealthConnect.org /Coyote-Springs-Pesto-Pizza-On-Your-Healthy-Kitchen.)
Another way to get your kids into cooking is to get into it yourself. My 13-year old niece, Alayna Grace, says she got into cooking after “watching a lot of Chopped and Chopped Jr. shows” with her mom.
Alayna says, “My mom used to put a ‘Chopped’ challenge basket together for me and I would make a meal, snack or dessert out of the ingredients. Mom and Dad were the judges, and of course, they loved everything, and I always won.”
These days, Alayna gets an idea for a food or a favorite restaurant meal she wants to cook at home and then looks up recipes online. She also really likes the Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook, by Dinah Bucholz. Her favorite recipe: pumpkin pastis!
Remember, any time you invite your kids to help prepare a meal or snack is quality time with you. After all, the main attraction of cooking for kids is being with you. Toddlers can play with mixing bowls and measuring cups while you cook. Younger children can add ingredients to a salad or mixing bowl while you stir. As they grow older, kids can start measuring and mixing on their own, and may use a butter knife to cut soft fruits and vegetables. Teens can take over cooking pasta, chopping, baking and more. Your own enthusiasm for cooking and eating will rub off on your kids, they will pass it on to their kids, and soon enough, you’ll belong to a tribe of healthy eaters.
YRMC’s Your Healthy Kitchen (YRMChealthconnect.org/your-healthy-kitchen) includes cooking tutorials as well as delicious, simple, and affordable recipes. You can follow YRMC’s Your Healthy Kitchen on Facebook (facebook.com/YRMCyourhealthykitchen).