As a dietitian, I’ve heard it time and time again – cooking with your children can be one of the best ways to teach the simple principles of good (balanced) nutrition and begin to mold and encourage healthy eating habits for life. Understandably, it wasn’t until I actually had kids that this idea became relevant, or even in the forefront of my mind at all. Being in the kitchen comes natural to me, as I have been cooking almost my entire life, but really found interest when I got married at the ripe age of twenty.
A Foundation with Memory Lane. I had just started my college classes in dietetics – absorbing everything I heard like a sponge – and found a real interest in the impact food has on our body – not to mention, I was now responsible for cooking healthy meals for Jordan and me..so the pressure was on to learn. During this time I met a ton of amazing people that helped mold and change me into the dietitian I am today – including a patient of mine I met with kidney disease. She was looking for someone to help her with meal times beyond the meal plan I had created specifically for her.. she wanted someone to actually make the meals.
Well.. I think I’m a pretty good cook, so I would love the chance!
I went from hospital dietitian to hospital dietitian + chef. I cooked for her and her family for nearly four years – 700 meals and a kidney transplant later. Bed rest with the girls required me to stop, but it was an absolutely amazing learning experience. It was my first ‘meal’ to make since the girls had been born, and on the counter in their bouncy seats they sat. Jordan was their to tend to them for support, of course.
“I can’t wait for you girls to love the kitchen like your mama”
That moment started the excitement of getting Parker and Jolie in the kitchen.
The Why. Study after study has proven that children are more likely to try new foods (Hi, Brussels Sprouts!) when they have a say in choosing and cooking them. Exposure is the key to the typical ‘picky eaters’. New ingredients/foods on a regular basis helps to promote the expansion of foods they’ll try and eventually accept. The kitchen is a learning ground for SO many aspect of a child’s brain. If you really think hard about it, what is cooking? Basic chemistry—The combination reaction, and change of foods/ingredients when you cook them. Not to mention, MATH (my worst subject!) – ingredients lists are full of fractions and numbers! Discussion about the recipe and what we are doing as we are cooking together feeds their vocabulary, assists in distinguishing numbers from letters, and exposes them to all kinds of colors and textures. My most favorite, and most recognizable skill practice (for toddlers especially) – the fine-motor skill practiced when little fingers tear, stir, and pour to assist mom and dad.
The amazing thing about this whole idea surrounding the phrase ‘kids in the kitchen’ is that you don’t have to be a ‘chef’ or a good cook at all to do this.
How early is too early? Get your kids cooking as soon as they can stand at the counter. It is news to many parents when I respond this way about when to start – but we all (including myself) often underestimate how much our young toddlers and children can actually do.
Getting Started. Be sure to have kids wash their hands before and after helping in the kitchen. Get them used to safe cooking habits in the very beginning. I think washing our hands is Parker and Jolie’s favorite thing to do! Depending on your child’s motor skill level, it is typically around 2 years old when their is a little more control in the kitchen and your child understands the action they are completing. We started with Parker and Jolie around 18 months – at that time they would stand in a chair or sit on the countertop and intently observe their surroundings. They have always been this way, so it is no surprise they started a little earlier that what is ‘typical’.
A few things to remember as a parent when cooking with your kids.
Be patient! I cannot express this enough. It is very easy to forget that we are standing their with our toddlers or preschool-age kids. The expectation that this will be a tidy and amazing experience (especially at first go in the kitchen) is disappointment waiting to happen. Dont set yourself up for failure from the start. Set expectations low and you’ll be very surprised.
Timing is Everything. Bouncing off the first principle of ‘be patient’, choose a time when you arent rushing to get dinner on the table. Start cooking a little earlier than normal, and get yourself prepared before inviting your kids into the kitchen to start. You want your children to associate family in the kitchen (and the food you are preparing) with a positive vibe – not with anxiety or stress. Be patient.
Don’t Worry. Kitchens are meant to be messy:) You neat freaks – including myself – need to focus on the fun we are having, and not how messy it is, or what is all over the floor. Don’t worry about a few (small) spills.. or if your child dumps and entire box of baking powder all over the floor (true story).. kids are messy and they won’t do this perfectly. Let them help to clean up their mess, and most importantly, Be patient.
Ownership. Colorful measuring cups, chef’s hats and aprons.. and for the older kiddos – let them help pick the menu for the week. Encouraging your child to have ownership while in the kitchen promotes confidence and increases the likelihood that they’ll come back to help again!
Cooking with your kids can be SO much fun. Jordan and I love getting them into the kitchen with us, even if it is just to decorate a pizza, stir the pancake batter, or measure the four. Sometimes they have interest in assisting the entire time I am cooking, and other times it is short lived- and I’m okay with that. The important (and most joyful) thing is that they love it. I so much as mention ‘helping mama cook’ and they come running.
What about you? Any tips for getting your kiddos in the kitchen? OR Do you and your kids have favorite RECIPES! Please share!!
Questions?? Feel free to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org)