by Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD, FAND
Kids love to cook—and it might help them to make better food choices, too.
I think it’s fair to say that most kids—given the chance—like to spend time playing around in the kitchen. And why not? Cooking is creative and messy and fun, and it tickles all the senses. On top of that, your efforts are rewarded with something that’s (hopefully) delicious to eat. But cooking can deliver some additional benefits, too—spending time in the kitchen can help kids to develop an appreciation for healthy foods, and foster better eating habits, too.
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The significance of this really shouldn’t be overlooked. In the last few decades, obesity and overweight rates among American kids have risen dramatically—a reflection, in part, on a diet that includes too many calories and nutrient-poor foods, and too little in the way of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and calcium-rich dairy products.
And eating out is a contributing factor. Meals eaten away from home are higher in calories, fat and saturated fat—and provide less calcium and fiber—than home-prepared meals. On the other hand, eating more meals at home is associated with a higher intake of fruits, vegetables and dairy products, with less fat and calories.
Cooking with Kids: The Many Benefits
- Cooking at home and eating together helps kids develop an appreciation for healthy foods. When parents serve as good role models with their food choices, kids develop a similar appreciation for healthy foods. And, the comfortable, supportive environment of home helps to reinforce these healthy behaviors.
- Kids enjoy eating what they’ve prepared. When kids are involved in the selection of ingredients and preparation of foods, they’re more likely to try their creations.
- They’re more likely to try new foods. Even if kids decide that they don’t particularly like what they prepared, the cooking experience will help to cultivate an open mind when it comes to trying new foods.
- Kids derive a sense of pride and independence when they cook. Kids love to boast that “I did it all myself!” When they are able to prepare something on their own—no matter how simple—and serve it to family, it instills a sense of pride and independence. Help your kids by guiding them toward age-appropriate recipes.
- Cooking is creative. Once kids have some basic skills and learn to follow recipes, they should be encouraged to get creative. You can start with a very simple basic recipe—for example, a smoothie made with flavored protein powder and milk—and allow them to experiment by adding different fruits, vegetables, spices or extracts. Once they’ve come up with their own recipes, many kids enjoy creating their own recipe file.
- Cooking together can be fun, quality time. Spending time together in the kitchen can be fun and relaxing for both kids and adults. Many kids don’t need much coaxing to join you in the kitchen, so use this time to simply enjoy each other’s company and talk about how good—and good for you—your meal is going to be.
Susan Bowerman is Director of Nutrition Training at Herbalife. Susan is a Registered Dietitian and a Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics.
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