Although MESS is probably the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of kids in the kitchen (and yes, I'm not going to lie - this will happen), think about the many benefits that come secondary to this.
I don't have kids myself, but I have had the privilege of cooking with many kids teaching them about seasonality, nutrition and basic cooking skills. All of these things are taught by natural conversations that arise when kids get their hands dirty in the kitchen. So take the chance, let them in, and you will be amazed by the things that they will learn.
Lets take a look at the benefits of getting them cooking!
Learning about nutrition
Talking to your children while you are cooking together will help them learn about nutrition. Simply asking them why our body needs a certain food while chopping up vegetables or, preparing fish for the oven will help them translate simple nutrition messages to practical skills. It’s amazing what kids already know about nutrition, but cooking with them will help them connect the dots between real food and nutrition.
When a child or teenager starts cooking they will likely be measuring ingredients out – "½ cup of oats please, 1 tablespoon of soy sauce for that, thanks".
This will teach them the different cup and spoon sizes and what is biggest. They will also see what these quantities look like in a recipe and on their plate.
From paddock to plate
Many kids and teens do not know the origins of food. How does bread get from wheat to loaf? Where does cheese come from? How are potatoes grown? What are the ingredients in processed snack foods such as biscuits and bars? Cooking can help kids and teens to learn about different ingredients and where they come from.
Reducing chronic disease risk
Understating food origins is immensely important for long-term health. Knowing where a food comes from and linking this back to basic nutrition principles will help kids make independent choices around healthy eating. This is so important as they start to learn to eat for health to help prevent chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers.
Trying new foods without the fuss
Getting kids in the kitchen will help them explore new foods. They will experience new tastes, textures and smells and start to experiment with different flavour combinations. This will help them to appreciate fresh, healthy foods and of course try new foods.
In addition to this subtle encouragement, kids are often proud of the meals that they prepare and excited to eat it. Hallelujah they just tried two new vegetables and ate dinner with the family without a fuss!
Appreciating REAL food
As kids start to grow an appreciation for good quality, seasonal food they will be less likely to ask for takeaways and other processed, nutritionally poor foods. Even when they are spending the afternoon helping their parents in the kitchen, they generally are not eating junk food.
Meal planning and organisation skills
Preparing a meal for the family means planning ahead. Involve your kids in the whole process including planning the meal, shopping for the ingredients and putting the meal together. This will help to develop important life skills, which are critical in order to continue to eat healthy and prepare meals as young adults.
The best way for anyone to learn to cook is to give it go. So lets see how we can get our kids in the kitchen!
Tips for getting started
1. If your child hasn’t really entered your kitchen start small and build up.
2. Start by choosing one meal per week where they can help out. This will create effective hands-on learning and also give the family some quality time to catch-up, chat and work together.
3. The littlest ones can do simple tasks like tearing fresh herbs, mixing spices for seafood and meat, stirring dressings and whisking eggs. Older kids can start to chop, grate and mash. The bigger kids and teens can start cooking seafood, poultry and meat.
4. Get your kids involved in choosing healthy lunch box snacks and get them to prepare them. This may include:
- Mixing frozen berries in plain yoghurt;
- Combining ingredients such as mixed seeds, cheese cubes and dried apricots and putting the mix into containers or making celery boats filled with a nut butter or ricotta and sprinkled with sultanas or sesame seeds.
5. Use time during the school holidays or quiet weekends to do some fun cooking or baking - try this beet, choc and blueberry loaf .
What are your tips for getting kids cooking?