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Teach Kids To Cook for a Lifetime of Healthy Habits

June 15, 2021

If you have kids, you’re probably familiar with this family meal scenario: You put a bowl of Brussels sprouts on the table and your kids instantly say “Ew!” and make an I-won’t-eat-it face. Or perhaps they quietly resist by picking out all the broccoli from the chicken stir-fry and pushing it to the side, hoping you won’t notice. 

Wouldn’t family mealtimes be easier if kids loved to eat their veggies? You can make this happen. While they’re still young, kids can pick up healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime — starting in your kitchen. 

Research shows that if you’re taught how to nourish yourself with healthy foods while you’re young, you’ll carry that through adulthood. In fact, a 2018 study from the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior found that developing cooking skills even as a young adult might yield long-term, positive benefits for health and nutrition. 

Young adults who felt more competent in the kitchen had “greater odds of preparing a meal with vegetables most days, ate more frequent family meals, less frequent fast-food meals and had fewer barriers to food preparation,” the study said. 

Awareness, Training and Knowledge

Learning appropriate cooking skills equips kids to live a healthier lifestyle thanks to awareness, training and knowledge of healthier eating options.

By the time they’re adults, they’ll have learned healthy cooking techniques, such as choosing oven-roasting instead of frying. Plus, they’ll know how to choose healthier foods — limiting processed foods and eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

First-hand experience in the kitchen helps children put all of this into practice as they grow and develop. This gives them confidence that they can prepare their own meals, even if they need to eat healthy on a budget.

When Parents Cook, Kids Learn

Children have daily opportunities to learn how to plan nutritious meals and use healthy cooking skills. How? By simply watching adults in the kitchen. Kids absorb what you’re doing and saying. This may lead to healthier food choices with home-cooked meals versus fast-food and frozen convenience foods.

As a parent, you also can reinforce the importance of well-balanced meals (including breakfast and lunch) once your kids once start helping you prepare meals.

Even babies will start to put the healthy-eating puzzle together as they watch you in the kitchen. It also promotes family time and learning. With very small children, kitchen safety should be the top priority, so avoid distractions and keep your child at a safe distance from anything dangerous.

Never Too Young To Start

Most toddlers enjoy helping in the kitchen and mimicking what mom or dad does. Ideally, start with simple tasks and build on this foundation as they get older. For example, you can have them play with safe kitchen utensils such as wooden spoons, non-breakable mixing bowls and plastic measuring cups.

As children get older, they can start developing actual skills in the kitchen. Here’s an overview of cooking skills by age:

·       3- to 5-year-olds: Young children require hands-on supervision and coaching as they develop fine-motor skills. They can also gather ingredients, help pour or stir ingredients, hand-mash vegetables and clean produce. You can even sneak in some learning as they practice their reading skills by following recipes. 

·       6- to 8-year-olds: This age group might be ready to use kitchen utensils and equipment depending on their maturity and previous experience. They’ve likely learned a few cooking basics like stirring and, sifting and mashing at this point and can try more complicated techniques[CL2]  like peeling and using cookie cutters. They can also read recipes and (bonus!) practice their math skills.

·       10+-year-olds: Again, depending on maturity levels, many can prepare their own dishes with minimal supervision depending on the level of complexity and safety of utensils and appliances required for the recipe.

Reviewing safety in the kitchen is important, especially when using appliances and utensils that might cause harm. This may vary on the child’s development.


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