**When I learned that Sam from The Kitchen Professor is passionate about creating connections in the kitchen, I knew I had to invite her to guest post on my blog. After all, authentic connections are most easily made when surrounded by food, and what better place to find food than in a kitchen! Her post about teaching kids about food is a reminder that spending time in the kitchen can be fun, delicious, AND educational. It’s an entertaining read for young and old alike.**
Eat, Cook, Learn
How do we encourage our kids to choose an apple over a Pop Tart?
A fun way to educate children about healthy food choices is to get them involved in all aspects of meal preparation. Kids learn by doing, so even toddlers can pick up valuable hands-on lessons in the kitchen. In fact, introducing basic cooking skills and behind-the-scenes meal prep to your kids will benefit the entire family. So what are you waiting for?
The earlier a child knows her way around the kitchen, the better. Of course, she should be supervised (especially around the stove and the knives!), but she should also be allowed to check out what’s in the fridge and the pantry and examine the spice cabinet. A kitchen savvy kid will know how to put food on a plate and she’ll also enhance these major life skills:
- Self-esteem and Confidence
- Creativity and Curiosity
- Humility and Patience
- Planning and Budgeting
As parents, we try to teach our kids about food. We do our best to explain various ingredients so ultimately our kids can make healthy food choices on their own. They probably won’t believe us the first few times we say that fresh veggies make your body feel better than processed cheese, or that organic oatmeal provides more energy than sugar cereal. However, with guidance, kids will eventually make the connection between a nutritious meal and a feeling of wellbeing. Soon they’ll be capable of choosing snacks that provide the nutrients they need to stay active and healthy.
Self Esteem and Confidence
Cooking may seem like a complicated task for toddlers, but there’s a lot of kitchen activity that even the littlest hands can handle. For example, growing a garden is a sure-fire way to get kids excited about cooking. Watching a carrot go from seed to salad is an eye-opening experience (especially for those who don’t know where food comes from). Reluctant (or picky) eaters are more likely to taste something new if they grew it or made it. What’s more, they feel accomplished and proud when they’ve had a hand in prepping a meal the entire family will enjoy.
Creativity and Curiosity
We know that peanut butter and ketchup will taste disgusting, but your child may not be so sure! Encourage mixing ingredients and tasting new flavors. Under your supervision, the kitchen can be a safe place to experiment. The more comfortable kids are around ingredients and kitchen tools, the more likely they are to concoct their own well-designed meals. Take the time to explain why we add just a dash of salt to the pasta dish or why a fresh lemon tastes better on salmon than lemon “flavoring.” Through trial and error kids will remember what works, what doesn’t, and why.
Humility and Patience
There’s nothing good about overcooked pork or burnt brownies. When you mess up a meal it feels like you’ve wasted a whole lot of time, energy, and even money. But making mistakes is part of cooking and the sooner kids realize this, the better. Just like any other skill, cooking takes practice and patience. Act as a role model and admit when you screw up and be gentle with the kids when they do the same.
Planning and Budgeting
How many kids realize that “making lasagna” is a multi-step process that extends beyond the kitchen? Here is a perfect opportunity to introduce the concept of food prep: listing ingredients, checking supplies, making a shopping list and buying what you need. Throw in a math lesson to determine a budget for a family meal. Then discuss what to do if you go over budget (substitute items? shop for lower prices?) and when it’s appropriate to splurge on specific fixings.
The Kitchen as a Classroom
Teaching children about food is one way to prepare them for living on their own. But until that day comes, know that when you teach your child the basics of cooking, you’re setting them up to succeed in so many other realms. A cooking lesson is really a time to bond and build memories while increasing numerous life skills. At the end of the day you’ll have shared so much more than just a well-balanced meal.
What tips do you have for teaching kids about food?
I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below.
Sam spent most of her childhood in the family kitchen, watching her parents prepare traditional Greek dishes. By the time she was 8 she could make spanakopita with her eyes closed. She blogs at The Kitchen Professor. When she’s not prepping meals for her kids, she loves to try out new recipes, cookware and kitchen utensils.
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