One of the absolute best ways to get kids interested in eating healthy food is to get kids cooking and getting them involved in the process. Before I was a Mom, I read about this and learned about it the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, but a few years ago I saw it in action. My daughter did something that reminded me of this concept I learned years earlier. The simple act of growing a pea plant got her interested in eating salads, something she was not open to previously. In this post, I shared the story about how growing plants from seeds completely changed her attitude.
In the same way, that growing a plant got her interested in salad, getting kids cooking or involved in the kitchen can do the same thing. Of course the level at which your child can get involved depends upon their age and maturity level. Even for the littles there are ways they can get involved that doesn't require a using a knife or getting close to a hot stove.
My children have been helping me in the kitchen since a very early age – both before even turning 2 years old. As they get older they are eager to move on to more difficult tasks and more “grown-up” things they can help with in the kitchen. If you have toddlers at home, here are some of the things they can start helping with now.
Ways to Get Toddlers Helping Out
- Grocery shopping. Take the children along and allow them to pick out a vegetable that they would like to try.
- Help unload the groceries from the bags.
- Wash fruits and vegetables. I give my son a small bowl of water and a kitchen towel and let him wash and dry the fruits or vegetables.
- Pour ingredients into the bowl. You measure it out, let them pour it in.
- Ask them to tell you when the timer goes off.
- Carry recyclables to the recycle bin.
These are all very simple things but they love to help! I love to see the look of accomplishment on their faces when I thank them for helping me make dinner.
If you have older children or if your children are very capable at a younger age, graduate them to more difficult tasks and make a big deal about it. My daughter loves when I tell her I think she is ready for something new. Some things you can ask your older children to help with might be:
Tasks for Older Children to Learn
- Set the table.
- Retrieve items from the pantry or refrigerator.
- Peel carrots or potatoes.
- Tear lettuce into small pieces.
- Put spreads on crackers.
- Flip pancakes.
- Cut up vegetables. I know this sounds crazy but you can start them with one of these children's chopping knives and then graduate them to a butter knife when you think they have it down. I usually give the children softer things to cut such as zucchini, mushroom, greens, etc. They can get frustrated with harder veggies sometimes.
Getting kids cooking and into the kitchen will help in so many ways. They get interested in food preparation, healthy eating, and helping out. It's also a time of day when children can get cranky because they are hungry and tired. I find if you give them a “job” to do it can eliminate that tough time of day.
How are your own cooking skills?
One thing that may be preventing you from getting your kids cooking and involved in the kitchen is your confidence in your own cooking skills. I was lucky to grow up in a family that revolved around cooking. My sisters and I cooked regularly from a very young age alongside our Mother and both Grandmothers. With this background, I am very confident in my skills in the kitchen which made cooking an easy thing for me to demonstrate in my family.
I know this is not the case for everyone. If you don't know how to cook or you are not confident in your ability to show your children what to do in the kitchen this can be a real hindrance to getting them involved in the process. If you can relate to this, it might be time to learn a few cooking skills! If you have a friend who is a pro in the kitchen, ask them to come over and have a cooking play date. You'll learn a thing or two and it will be fun for everyone.
If you don't have a friend or relative that can give you a lesson, this might be something for you. Katie Kimball from Kitchen Stewardship has created an online course called, Kids Cook Real Food. The beauty of this course is that it can work for both kids and adults because you do it together. She even has a free knife skills class that she is giving away for free until January 11. Sign up for the free knife skills class here.