Do meal times result in a standoff with your children? Is it impossible to get them to finish their veggies or try new foods? Many parents struggle with meal time. How can you encourage your kids to make good food choices? Invite your kids into the kitchen! Teaching your children how to prepare food has many benefits. Cooking with you kids can do the following:
Teach cooking skills and food safety.
By inviting your kids into the kitchen, you can teach them how to prepare healthy meals at home and how to stay safe in the kitchen. As age-appropriate, show your children how to use kitchen tools and appliances safely. You should also teach good food safety such as washing hands, cooking meats to a safe internal temperature, and keeping raw meats separate from other foods.
Here are some food preparation task your child may be able to do:
- Assemble foods such as salads or choose toppings for pizza
- Stir mixing bowls to create dressings or sauces
- Measure ingredients with measuring cups and spoons
- Rinse produce
- Listen for the timer
- Break eggs into a bowl
- Help with clean up
If your children are older, you can also involve them in other aspects of cooking, such as using the stovetop and chopping vegetables as you supervise. Visit EatRight.org for suggestions of age-appropriate tasks.
When teaching your children in the kitchen, be patient. They may make a mess or take a little longer to accomplish a task. This is just part of learning to cook! Choose a night when you have extra time to spend preparing dinner to invite you kids into the kitchen.
Create an appreciation for food.
Is your child a picky eater? Children may be more likely to eat food they help choose or prepare. At the grocery store, encourage your child to pick out produce. If you have a garden, let your child help you pick veggies, fruits, and herbs. If you don’t have your own garden, search for a farm in your area that allows visitors to pick their own apples, strawberries, pumpkins, or other produce. By learning where food comes from and seeing the work you put into cooking, you child will gain a new appreciation for food.
Encourage your child to try new foods and flavors. Watch cooking or travel shows together so your child can learn more about the cultural aspects of food. If your child enjoys a specific type of cuisine, for example Korean food, try visiting an authentic Korean restaurant or Asian grocery store that caters to that type of food. You may even discover a new favorite food yourself!
Build healthy food habits.
Most people learn their food habits at a young age. If you eat take out or fast food often, your children will be accustomed to this too. Cook at home more and involve your children in the process. They will learn basic cooking skills so when they leave the nest, they will still know how to prepare a home-cooked meal on their own. Home-cooked meals are usually healthier and less expensive than premade meals, fast food, or take out.
Children are often visual learners so use tools like those on ChooseMyPlate.gov to teach your children how to create a balanced meal. Ask your children to check their plates to make sure that half of it is filled with veggies and fruits at each meal. Explain that foods provide their bodies with energy and nutrients to stay healthy and well. You need good foods to run, jump, and play!
Provide a bonding opportunity.
Food brings people together. Meals are often a social activities. Holidays and celebrations around the world usually revolve around food. Teaching your children about food can bring you closer together. Bond with your children in the kitchen and then enjoy the fruits of your labor by sharing a meal together.
@TheTable, an online cookbook with nutritious, family-friendly recipes for a healthy lifestyle from MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Children’s Cancer Hospital
Search YouTube for video recipes for inspiration