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Kids in the kitchen

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. 

Math skills

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? 

Let's cook, eat & enjoy with Mary Wills

The Wholesome Collective is passionate about creating simple, wholesome recipes AND showing people through interactive groups and presentations just how easy it is to cook, eat & enjoy in a healthy way.

That is why we have recruited the skills and talents of the passionate and energetic Mary Wills! Mary is a Home Economist with a wealth of experience in the food industry and we just love her approach to food and cooking. From recipe writing for The Australian Women's Weekly to enabling people living with disabilities to independently cook, she has done it all! 

So you can all get to know her, I asked Mary a few questions about her career path, her inspirations in the kitchen and her food & cooking mantra.


KERRYN: Can you please tell us a little about your yourself, your profession, and your career so far. 

MARY: I am a Home Economist, which usually takes some explaining or people laugh, thinking I am saying that I am a house wife. The term Home Economist is quite old fashioned and yet we have such a vital role to play in the community. No, I am not a chef, I don't have commercial cooking skills. What is the difference you ask? A Home Economist works in the community educating people to increase their cooking skills in the home, developing recipes for books, magazines and publications, food styling for photography and working in the health system as assistants to Dietitians.

Mary's AMAZING seafood paella

Mary's AMAZING seafood paella

KERRYN: Do you have any career highlights that you want to share? 

MARY: I have been lucky enough to work at The Lodge in Canberra (home of Australia's Prime Minister) where I have served Prime Minister John Howard his dinner. I have worked alongside many celebrity food presenters to host fabulous cooking classes. But I think my most iconic moment as a Home Ec was to see my name in print as a contributor to many Australia's Women's Weekly cook books. I felt like I had really made it!

KERRYN: Why did you decide to work in the field of food and nutrition?

MARY: Mum may not be too happy with my answer. So sorry mum, I love you dearly. I never liked mum's cooking except for a few pieces of brilliance that I still use. I wanted to cook the meals myself and use foods that I read about in The Australian Women's Weekly cook books (the only resource I had!) Mum graciously handed over the kitchen to me with the proviso that I cleaned up...fair enough!

Mary's vegetarian chilli con carne with polenta dumplings!

Mary's vegetarian chilli con carne with polenta dumplings!

The love of nutrition came later as I studied Home Science at school. I was hooked but wanted to combine my love of cooking and nutrition and in the 80's, the answer was a Home Economics certificate.

KERRYN: Is there anything that continues to inspire or motivate you to work in this field?

MARY: I love the buzz of showing someone new ideas who takes that idea into their home and increases their skills. We all eat and we all have to prepare food to some degree. To have someone tell me that they find that task easier, more interesting or more enjoyable as a result of something I have shown them is such a thrill.

KERRYN: What is the best part of your job?

MARY: The retention of knowledge by people who have come to me. I have taught children who won't eat vegetables, I have taught 93 year olds new ideas, I have taught disabled people how to have confidence in the kitchen (best ever reward) and people who use my recipes in their weekly repertoire of meals. To feel you have helped or made a positive impact elates me.

KERRYN: What is a simple way to describe your food and cooking manta?

Keep it simple.

KERRYN: What are 5 must-have ingredients in the house at all times and why?

MARY: olive oil, lemons, parsley, Dijon mustard & lentils. I can cook it, flavour it and add a protein in a flash. SIMPLE!

KERRYN: What are the key things that you focus on in order to stay healthy and well?

MARY: Count my blessings every morning as I wake up...fair dinkum I really do. Make a choice, fresh or processed - fresh will win every time. That very simple philosophy will keep us healthy. ALSO, the sharing of food made with love cannot be over rated. 

You can see from this interview that Mary is the perfect fit for The Wholesome Collective. A food and nutrition consultancy that is passionate about enabling everyone to cook simple, heathy and delicious meals. If you are interested, we can tailor an interactive cooking presentation or hands on class for any group (whether that be a sporting club, school, workplace, private or community group). This option will show you how uncomplicated it is to prepare nourishing meals, using fresh and familiar foods that still taste great. 

If you would like to spend some time with myself and Mary as we teach you the foundations of nutrition and cooking please SAY HELLO and see how we can help you. 

Kerryn x