Obesity is a major concern in North America, but teaching our kids to have a healthy relationship with food is our first, and strongest line of defense.1
Studies show that children who are integrated into their family’s cooking rituals from a young age develop a greater appreciation for healthy food. The most productive means of accomplishing this is by incorporating children in all aspects of meal preparation, starting with the trip to the grocery store.
By teaching our children what to eat and how to prepare it, we are giving them the tools they need to lead a long and healthy life.
Why Is It Important to Teach Cooking Skills to Our Children?
Obesity-related ailments such as heart disease, strokes, and type 2 diabetes are issues with lifelong repercussions. Related costs drain the American healthcare system of an estimated $275 billion annually.
For these reasons, obesity is a pressing issue for Americans. The constant search for a solution to this epidemic has led us to realize that by adjusting our children's eating habits as early as possible, we are guiding them to develop a healthy lifestyle that will carry them into their adult years.
Furthermore, getting kids more involved in the cooking process contributes to their cognitive and behavioral development regarding the food they eat. By being directly involved with the sourcing and preparation of the meals they eat, a sense of normalcy surrounding healthy food develops.
From an early age, children love being involved in activities undertaken by their parents. As they grow older and begin to develop a sense of independence, their interest in learning from their parents tends to diminish. It is vital to help them build positive food habits while they are still young enough to be interested in learning about it.
Strategies for Involving Kids in the Kitchen
With an open mind and some patience, involving children in the cooking process can be fun and fulfilling for everyone. The key is to ensure that they feel like their opinions are valued. That begins at the grocery store.
Allowing your child to choose the vegetables and offer input on inclusions for the meal enables them to broaden their relationship with food and also helps them feel like they are contributing in a real and significant manner.
However, this may not make for traditional meal pairings, so it is essential to maintain an open mind. Rejecting their suggestions, unless they are completely absurd, is counterproductive. By explaining that their idea is unnatural, you run the risk of enforcing an unhealthy relationship with food. Children should never develop a complex by thinking that their food preferences are weird or abnormal.
Turning a kitchen into a learning environment is a test of patience for some. Allowing children to do things like cutting vegetables or cracking eggs might make a parent uncomfortable, but as long as it's safely, under adult supervision, there shouldn't be anything to worry over.
A child can start to help in the kitchen at any age. Tasks that may seem menial to an adult, like measuring cups of flour and washing vegetables, can mean a lot to a child who is learning something new.
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The Educational Benefit to Teaching Kids to Cook
Part of incorporating kids in the kitchen is learning to gauge their skill level. If they are doing something that bores them, they will lose interest. They will also stop wanting to be involved if they are feeling overwhelmed.
Once you get the rhythm right, cooking with kids opens up new avenues for learning that spill over into other aspects of their education. Measuring ingredients is an opportunity for learning fractions. Discussing a dish’s origins can become a geography lesson. Everything that a child does to help put a meal together presents an opportunity to sharpen their fine motor skills.
The rate at which a child’s cooking skills expand depends entirely on the individual child. Don’t worry about starting small and gradually developing more skills if that’s what your child needs. If they are comfortable with larger tasks early on in the process, feel free to feed their enthusiasm. If a child doesn’t show any interest in cooking, brightly colored foods or foods they’ve never heard of can be used to entice them into the kitchen.
Teaching a child to cook can feel overwhelming in the beginning, so start slow and ease yourself and your child out of your respective comfort zones. Consider it an opportunity for family unity as much as an opportunity to instill in your child a healthy relationship with food that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.
1 “Obesity in America” 2008. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Charles_Menifield/publication/23184337_Obesity_in_America/links/5b71eddd92851ca65057e079/Obesity-in-America.pdf. Accessed August 6, 2019