If you’re like me, you’ve tried just about every trick under the sun to get your kids to eat the nutritious food on their plates. But new research suggests one promising strategy that I haven’t tried: teaching my kids to cook! According to a report recently published in the CDC’s Preventing Chronic Disease: Public Health Research, Practice and Policy, kids who take cooking classes or spend time preparing family meals showed measurable improvements in their eating habits.
What kind of improvements? Cooking kids generally began to consume more fruits and vegetables and had a more positive attitude about trying new foods. Bringing kids into the kitchen lets them interact with the food in a way that makes them more comfortable with all the colors, textures, and scents of a well-balanced diet. They feel a little more in control of the culinary experience and relax a bit, it seems.
If you’re parenting a picky eater, we know the mealtime battleground can become exhausting. Try letting your picky prince or princess play chef once in awhile, and it might just turn things around! Here’s how to get your picky eater to cook.
1. Even young children can be great kitchen helpers.
From simple tasks like snapping green beans or mixing up a bowl full of ingredients for you, little hands like to be busy. When your little ones are in “cooking class” with you, keep those little hands moving or they’ll be easily distracted.
2. Simple recipes are great for kids.
Lots of fruits and veggies are great with minimal prep and just a few ingredients. The less complicated the recipe, the less overwhelmed your kids will be with the process. Tried and true family favorites will be popular with your tiny kitchen staff too! Check out Susan’s Sunday Suppers for some great ideas.
3. Bring your patience.
Bringing your children into the kitchen will require more effort on your part. They’ll drop things, make messes, and bicker about who gets to crack the egg. But it’s still worth it. According to the experts, kids who are exposed to scratch cooking develop a more mature palate and are less drawn to highly processed foods. That’s a major health win.
4. Give them a sense of pride about the food they are preparing.
Remind them that their efforts will be rewarded with something yummy, and they’re helping to feed the entire family! Everyone will be impressed with what they can cook.
5. Make it fun with themes.
It might be Italian Night with your family’s favorite spaghetti recipe or Mexican Night with a healthy and delicious taco salad. Talk about the countries where these types of food originated, and have fun with it!
6. Older kids are great choppers and peelers.
Once your kids are old enough to handle a knife or a vegetable peeler, they can become a big help with the prep of raw ingredients. Handling and smelling the food will acclimate picky eaters to new textures and scents before they even attempt to taste anything.
More family cooking will lead to more family meals shared together, and that’s a good thing! We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Relationships are built and connections are made around the family dinner table. Making mealtime an event that your kids invest in from the prep stage just underlines the importance of that special time even more. Family dinners are worth it!
Do your kids help prepare family meals?
Dana Hall McCain writes about marriage, parenting, faith and wellness. She is a mom of two, and has been married to a wonderful guy for over 18 years.