Cooking and eating together with your children help establish healthy eating habits.
This article is based on reporting that features expert sources including Robert Irvine; Jeanne Petrucci, MS, RDN; Peggy Policastro, PhD, RD
Ever since my kids were big enough to sit in a shopping cart, they came to the grocery store with me. As a mom of three, I realized that these family outings would cost me more time and money, but as a dietitian and nutritionist, I also knew that the supermarket was akin to a giant classroom filled with valuable lessons even more important than some taught in school.
For me, cooking with my kids and discussing how foods look, feel and smell, brought us closer to learning about which foods paired well together and which were the best for fueling their bodies and minds.
These memories came back recently, when I brought my grandson to a farmer’s market, where he grabbed and chewed on a handful of basil. Not only did we have fun talking about this herb, but it led to going home and raiding my spice cabinet, exploring each unique taste and aroma. This was certainly not a typical activity for a toddler. However, it lead to a heaping side of basil at dinner!
To help you inspire your children to establish healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime, here are a few tips you can start implementing today:
Set an Example at the Table and in the Kitchen
Like it or not, you’re being watched. Your children are observing and modeling your behaviors on a daily basis. If you’re turning up your nose when the broccoli is being passed, don’t expect your child to ask for a first, let alone a second, helping of the stuff.
Some parents act as martyrs, skipping meals in exchange for providing food for their family without taking time to address their own needs. But when parents put themselves last, it’s actually harder to create healthy meals – both for themselves and for their children. When parents neglect their own needs, it’s hard to be a calm, loving or even an effective parent – especially since babies, infants and toddlers can require more patience and attention than (most) older kids. In fact, most parents don’t realize that when they skip meals or they’re dehydrated, the symptoms of these behaviors result in irritability, lightheadedness and inability to focus.
Share a Few New Cooking Skills With Your Child
Jeanne Petrucci, a registered dietitian nutritionist and founder of Living Plate, a nonprofit nutrition education center, agrees that, “Presenting cooking as an enjoyable community activity, instead of a chore, helps nurture a desire to be in the kitchen.” She adds, “Assigning younger children kitchen tasks that call on larger motor skills is really freeing for them.” Petrucci provides this example: “Although you might not think of cooking as enjoyable, if you put a bowl of steamed cauliflower and potatoes in front of a child with a potato masher, the fun can begin!”
View Food as Edible Toys
Your mom may have told you not to play with your food, but making mealtime fun and playful could be the perfect formula for fostering good eating habits. Chef Robert Irvine, host of Food Network’s Restaurant: Impossible and author of “Family Table,” tells us, “Kids are naturally curious; they’re basically miniature scientists that want to know how things work and why.” As a chef, Irvine says, “Cooking with your child is not only a great way to engage their curiosity, it’s an amazing chance to get them hooked on fresh, healthy food while also presenting an opportunity for parent and child to connect.”
Cooking Is Not for Adults Only
Yes, kids will spill things, they break things and they can be slow at following directions. But kids are also quick learners and they are eager to create dishes that the whole family will enjoy together. (Cleaning up after cooking, however, is another story.)
“By teaching kids to cook, they shop differently, fill their plates differently and consider the impact on their environment differently,” says Peggy Policastro, Director of the New Jersey Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health’s Student Ambassador Program at Rutgers University. Policastro emphasizes, “Watching cooking is not the same as cooking.” She points out that, “After watching the Super Bowl, you don’t become a better football player.”
By letting kids get their hands dirty and help with age-appropriate mixing, whisking, chopping and combining foods, they’re more likely to get involved with meal prep when they’re no longer under your roof and when they’re providing for themselves.
Create a Win-Win Experience
As parents, while we’re juggling our kids’ school and after-school schedules, as well as handling our own work and bulging to-do lists, it’s not always easy to take a step back and think about how little everyday habits can impact a child’s life in a big way. But you never know when you’re making a food memory that they’ll take to the table when they’re grown. And if you’re as lucky as I have been… they’ll cook dinner for you someday!