Kids love to be helpers!
They also love to create and get their hands dirty!
Most kids also love to eat, especially when the food is appealing, smells great, is what others are eating or is something they had a hand in creating!
You can capitalize on these moments of their wanting to help prepare the food that they will eat by incorporating food related activities into their day.
Let the kids help you get the afternoon snack ready, make refreshing drinks on a hot day, make their own silly putty, make a macaroni birthday card all the way up to making dinner!
You might also involve the kids in making a list for the grocery store, doing the shopping with you and then coming home and helping you prepare the meal!
Health Benefits of Family Togetherness in the Kitchen
In addition to the fun you’ll have, there are health benefits associated with cooking together in the kitchen.
- Studies have shown that kids who help to prepare the food they eat will eat more. One study showed that kids who did meal prep and cooking were more confident about the importance of making healthier food choices.
- It has also been shown that kids who eat family meals with healthy food choices get better grades in school. According to the The Wellness Impact: Enhancing Academic Success Through Healthy School Environments report an inadequate intake of specific foods such as fruits, vegetables, or dairy products is associated with lower grades as well as deficiencies in specific nutrients such as vitamins A, B6, B12, C, folate, iron, zinc, and calcium.
- Meals at the table with the family are social interactions where communication is learned. We learn to talk to each other, listen to the answers and open the lines of communication. It doesn’t hurt to have a place to practice our manners which are a skill we need as adults!
- Regular family meals have been shown to reduce the risk of childhood obesity too. During the last 30 years obesity rates among children have tripled and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one in three American children are overweight or obese. When we cook our own meals instead of hitting fast foods or selecting convenience items, we tend to have lower calories and reduced fat meals that are healthier for not only the kids but us too!
Tips to Get Started with Your Kids in the Kitchen
Kid friendly cooking experiences where kids can get “hands on” with a variety of different kinds of foods will definitely lead to smiles.
- Always remember the first step is good hand washing.
- Safety in the kitchen is important too. Be sure the planned activity is age appropriate and involves equipment that kids can use without injury. Use of knives, ovens and cook tops should be closely supervised to prevent accidents.
- Give them a fun apron that is just for them to use in the kitchen when they are creating. It may even be something that you decorate and embellish together! Once they don the apron, they become the chef! Maybe they would love a chef hat too!
- Make each activity a learning adventure about good nutrition. Use new ingredients and fun foods. Try to give them some fun facts along the way such as where the food was grown or how it is spelled. You can use a map or dictionary to take the cooking into more learning opportunities. Explain why this food is so good such as “this Greek yogurt that we will use to make a smoothie is good for your muscles so you can run faster when you chase the dog!” or “this cheese will give you calcium to help your bones grow so you can be tall like daddy.”
- Involve them in reading the cookbook with you. They may enjoy this because many cookbooks are like picture books. Let them select what they would like to cook or eat in the coming week! The more choices they have in the process, the more interested they will be in the outcome.
- If they are old enough, let them read the recipe aloud as you and others in the family do the tasks.
- Let them measure the ingredients challenging them to use math skills when you double or cut the portion in half. How much is half of a half? What a fun way to learn about fractions!
- Once you make the recipe or cook a meal, allow your child to help serve the feast to others. Perhaps they can prepare a menu and take orders. Make dining at home a fun time for the whole family! Let them set the tablescape by picking the color of the tablecloth, napkins or placemats. Perhaps you have a variety of dishware that they can pick and choose to be creative setting the table. Challenge them to create a centerpiece or place cards that match the design of the table setting.
- Once the meal is completed, let them solicit comments from the diners. Did they like the colors, was it hot or cold enough, what other foods would they like to eat next time? They can use this information to plan a shopping trip for the next meal they help to prepare.
Learning While Having Fun in the Kitchen
Eating healthy foods is fun! Most of the time, we involve our kids in making desserts such as cookies but could also include them in washing vegetables and fruits, rolling dough for bread or pizza, measuring ingredients, smelling the spices, and many other tasks that need help to get a meal to the table.
It may take a little more time and even more clean-up, but it will be worth the extra effort in their smiles, laughter and learning!
You can guide good food choices, encourage eating a variety of different foods and snacking smart when you engage your kids with food experiences.
The information you pass along will lead to lifelong health. If they are really interested, look for a kids cooking class or culinary food camp to keep their curiosity peaked!
Once they become interested in where their food comes from and how it is prepared, they may want to grow some of their own foods in their very own garden! Backyard…here we come!