Cooking up healthy habits
I should have thought of it sooner, being the daughter of a chef, but letting my kids cook alongside me was a game-changer. I didn’t even plan it. I was tired of entertaining my son while I cooked dinner. One night I turned to him and said, “You know what? I could use some help.” His eyes lit up at the idea of being able to help with a grown-up job.
Home cooked meals are always healthier than take out. Meals cooked at home have less fat, salt, and preservative, and more nutrients and fresh flavors. Cooking takes time and effort, though, and I would get frustrated when my son wouldn’t even touch his vegetables. As I started inviting him to cook along side me, I was surprised to see him sneaking bites of uncooked carrots and peas while we prepped the dinner. It turns out that he just didn’t like his vegetables cooked. Now, no matter who’s cooking, I set some vegetables aside for him before they go in the pot.
My son was almost four before I discovered that helping me make dinner would encourage him to actually eat his dinner. Now my son is six and thinks of himself as a great chef. My daughter is only two and has been a part of meal prep ever since she could sit up! Of course they can’t do everything. I have to stay aware and keep the kids out of reach of the hot stove and sharp knives. But there is still plenty for them to do.
Before you invite your child into the kitchen, remember that they will not make things easier at first. They may need you to help them more than they can help you. Choose a day when you have plenty of time and patience. You don’t have to be a master chef either. The simpler the meal, the better!
When you’re ready to start, here are a few kitchen tasks than any child would love to try:
scoop and mix ingredients
shake on spices
cut soft foods (like bananas) with a butter knife
wash fruits and vegetables
tear lettuce or spinach leaves
As your children grow older and become more comfortable in the kitchen they can learn to stir pots on the stove, peel and grate vegetables, and even handle a small knife. I am amazed at how much my kids love to cook and eat their own cooking!
Involving my children in cooking helps them eat better now and they are learning healthy habits that will last a lifetime. As we cook, we talk about the ingredients and what makes a healthy meal. The experience of helping in the kitchen as children will also give them the knowledge and confidence to cook for themselves when they grow up.
I am mother of two and have a background in education and libraries. I love any excuse to get outside with my kids, especially to garden and explore our city’s green spaces.
Want more ways to teach your children to love healthy food? wichealth.org has a free online lesson called Help Your Child Develop Healthy Eating Habits. Find it on wichealth.org in the Children Ages 1-5 category!