It’s Kids Take Over the Kitchen Day, right in the middle of National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. Childhood obesity is a prevalent issue in the US and places children at risk for poor health throughout life. One of the best ways to combat childhood obesity and its lifelong effects is to establish healthy eating habits early. In addition to providing healthy fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins, limiting the availability of foods high in sugar, and making sure kids stay active, a great way to instill healthy habits is to encourage kids to help cook healthy meals.
Kids love to help adults and feel a deep sense of accomplishment in being able to complete ‘adult’ tasks. Getting children involved in the cooking process gives them a chance to explore new and different foods before they are asked to eat them, as well as allow them to take ownership of the food they have helped prepare (which will entice them to eat it). So, how can you get kids started with cooking? Here are a few tips:
01Start simple: Recipes don’t need to be complicated or fancy to be delicious. Start with healthy, simple-to-follow, no-fail recipes that will provide a sense of accomplishment and encourage kids to keep going. Early on, kids may have a short attention span with the cooking process, so the recipe shouldn’t take too long to complete.
02Show kids the entire process: Start with reading the recipe to them out loud from start to finish. Then move on to gathering the ingredients and tools. Make sure you explain what you are doing at each step, and why, so they get a complete understanding of how the recipe works.
03Start with foods they are familiar with: Especially if your child is a picky eater, don’t expect them to jump into cooking and start eating everything. Every kid is different, and some may embrace the process and start eating new foods immediately. Some may be excited to cook, but still not so excited to try the new foods. Progress at their pace, and start with foods you know they already enjoy. If you’re ambitious, you can search the internet for healthier recipes of unhealthy foods they like.
04Let them participate: Even very young children can help with cooking tasks, as long as they have help from an adult. Let them measure, add ingredients, stir. Older children can move into cutting, operating kitchen appliances, and even cooking on their own.
05Make it fun: Ensure your children want to continue cooking by making the process fun. Let them choose recipes, make “kid-friendly” food (for younger children), or even put on your favorite music or audiobook while you work together.
That’s ok! You can learn together. It’s okay to show kids that not all adults are great at every task, but that we can all learn how to do new things together. Start simple and be willing to try new things with them, and you may wind up with a new family activity.
Cooking with children is a great way to provide them with information and skills they can carry into adulthood and use to make healthy choices throughout their lives. It’s also an excellent way to spend more time together as a family, encourage independence, and instill feelings of ownership and accomplishment. I hope you start cooking with your kids and encouraging healthy habits from a young age.