With so many of us having busy days and what seems like no time to relax, cooking with our kids might be the LAST thing on a parent’s TO-DO list. But cooking with kids CAN be fun! For those of you struggling with picky eaters, research has shown that kids who are involved in preparing food are much more likely to try new foods and eat a more balanced diet. After all, that’s what we really want to do is raise a new generation of healthy eaters (and future chefs!!).
Here are a few things to keep in mind when cooking with your kids:
- Remember, this is a learning opportunity for your children and an experience that has the ability to shape the way they think about food and nourishment. You can involve your kids at ANY part of the process –
- From finding the recipes online together (asking them to choose their favorite vegetable and then searching recipes from there)
- To grocery shopping together (selecting fresh fruits and vegetables in the store or picking favorites from your online delivery/pick-up shop).
- To helping with the prep (getting the ingredients out of the pantry, measuring, mixing or cutting)
- To the actual cooking, blending, timing, finishing touches
- To setting the table and preparing the rest of the family for the meal experience.
- To helping with the clean-up (washing pots, loading the dishwasher, clearing the table, drying clean dishes)
It all counts as involving your kids, whether they partake in one part or the entire process!
- It’s tedious….it takes a good bit of preparation and time (and laid out in the steps above), and is NOT as efficient as doing it yourself. Give yourself more time than you think you need. Kids will ask questions about how does this work, or “what does this feel like” as they dip their hands into the bowl to find out.
- Count on things being messy – almost like a more controlled food fight! Kids are going to want their hands on everything. Cleanup will be a huge project – they will want to use every pot, pan, or dish in the kitchen. And there WILL be spills of course! If you go into it knowing that things will get messy, you can enjoy the time and experience with your kids more, instead of getting frustrated while trying to control the mess as you go along.
- They may not be interested! Of course, kids would rather play with LEGOS, Barbies, or get tablet time, if given the choice. If you are enthusiastic, younger kids may be a bit more interested and excited in peak moments. Older kids may get involved just to humor you, and then may end up enjoying it as you go along. (maybe not the first time, maybe not the next time, but over time). Keep asking them to help and engage with them in the process.
Being a pediatrician, I can’t go without mentioning these safety and ground rules:
- Wash hands before you start and again when you are finished. It’s a good hygiene habit to teach.
- Make time for cooking……relax and have fun with it, and try not to be TOO MUCH in control, allow for some experimentation.
- Turn pot handles inward to avoid spilling hot items.
- Cook boiling liquids on back burners, away from curious hands.
- Keep your knife block out of reach (like in the back corner of the counter)
- Teach kids to keep hands away from hot objects (stove, oven), sharp objects, and also any uncooked foods that may not be safe to taste
So the next question is, what are you going to make with your kids next?!
You might as well use the increased time at home this year cultivating a healthy and involved environment with your kids. It’s never too early or too late to start cooking with your kids – whether they are an engaged audience sitting in their highchair watching you as you talk with them along the way, or a teenager who has never shown interest in years past. There is something that every age and stage can be included in when it comes to home meals and cooking!
Have fun and happy cooking!
Article written by: Dr. John McGrath, Annapolis Pediatrics