August is Kids Eat Right Month™ when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and its Foundation focus on the importance of healthful eating and active lifestyles for children and their families.
One of the best ways for kids to develop healthful eating habits is to get them involved in the kitchen. Sure, it takes time and isn’t something you can do every day (especially if you have a young child that needs close supervision), but it’s worth the effort whenever you can. After all, teaching kids to cook isn’t just about their health, it’s an important life skill.
Many Kids Don’t Learn Cooking Skills
For centuries – heck, since the beginning of time – kids have learned to cook by observing their parents and by lending a helping hand. But those days are long gone. As parents cook less frequently and kids are over-scheduled in activities, generations of kids are growing up without a clue of what to do in the kitchen.
- Parents cook less now than they did before: Research shows that, in 2007-2008, only about 56% of people cooked at home. The average time spent cooking was about 65 minutes per day, a significant decrease from the mid-1960’s when people spent an average of 112 minutes per day cooking (1).
- Kids are over-scheduled: We don’t need science to tell us our kids are over-scheduled. Most kids (including mine!) are so busy dashing from one activity to another that they aren’t at home when meals are being prepared – and in many cases – are even eating on the go.
This combination of parents cooking less and kids being busier than ever translates to a missed opportunity for kids to learn important cooking skills.
Cooking Skills = Better Vegetable Consumption
There is strong evidence that shows knowing how to cook is correlated with eating more vegetables. This correlation holds true in both kids and adults. This is good news given that vegetables are loaded with nutrients that keep us healthy.
In one study, adolescents who reported the greatest cooking abilities were about twice as likely to meet the recommendations for fruits and vegetables (2).
In a European study of adults, cooking skills correlated positively with weekly vegetable consumption. In other words, the better a person’s cooking skills are, the more vegetables they’re likely to eat (3).
In yet another study, parent and child pairs were given six 2-hour weekly sessions to learn about food preparation and nutrition, as well as make a meal together. Following the course, there were significant improvements in the parents’ cooking confidence, the children’s self-efficacy, and in the amount and variety of vegetables available at home (4).
Cooking Skills = Happier Kids
Teaching kids to cook isn’t just about helping them to be healthier, it’s also about helping them to be HAPPIER. In one study, adolescents who reported the greatest cooking abilities also reported significantly lower levels of depressive symptoms and greater mental well-being than their peers who reported having the lowest cooking abilities (1).
The same holds true for simply eating together as a family. Eating family meals together more frequently is associated with significantly fewer depressive symptoms, fewer emotional difficulties, and better emotional-well-being among adolescents. (5).
Getting Your Kids in the Kitchen
The truth is, most kids like being hands-on in the kitchen. But when so many of us are strapped for time, it’s hard enough to get a meal on the table without the “helping” hands of our wee ones.
In my post 5 Ridiculously Easy Ways to Involve Kids in the Kitchen (Without Losing Your Mind), I share some simple and fun ideas to get started. Or, for even more help, try out a kids’ cooking kit like Kidstir or Raddish Kids.
Try These Recipes
I wrote my cookbook, Mom’s Sugar Solution, with two goals in mind:
- To help families eat less sugar and eat more fruits and vegetables, and
- To share recipe ideas that are so simple, even a kid could make them.
Case in point…
Here are 3 simple recipes from Mom’s Sugar Solution that you may want to try with your kids:
These Vegetable Spring Rolls – with a side of Spicy Peanut Dip – have your name written all over them! They’re light, refreshing and perfect for little hands. Think of them as a mini self-contained salad that your kiddo will actually want to eat!! Best of all, your kids can customize their own toppings and roll-up their own Spring Roll.
This 4-ingredient snack is a cinch to pull together and can be customized with your kiddo’s favorite toppings. Plus, it sure beats a box of crackers for an after-school snack!
This is one of my favorite ways to use the last of a whole grain bread loaf, just before it goes stale. It’s also a family favorite picnic item. We’ll pack this, along with a few other simple salad dishes and fresh fruit into a cooler, and be on our way. If your kids are too little to chop the ingredients, let them help pick the basil leaves off the stem and toss the ingredients together.
Be sure to follow #KidsInTheKitchen on social media all month for tips and recipes from registered dietitians and healthy bloggers. And don’t forget to share your favorite ideas in the comments below!
- Smith LP, Ng SH, Popkin BP. Trends in US home food preparation and consumption: analysis of national nutrition surveys and time use studies from 1965-1966 to 2007-2008. Nutr J. 2013; 12: 45.
- Utter J, Denny S, Lucassen M, Dyson B. Adolescent cooking abilities and behaviors: associations with nutrition and emotional well-being. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2016; 48(1): 35-41.
- Hartmann C, Dohle S, Siegrist M. Importance of cooking skills for balanced food choices. Appetite. 2013; 65(1): 125-131.
- Overcash F, Ritter A, Mann T. Positive impacts of a vegetable cooking skills program among low-income parents and children. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2017.
- Utter J, Denny S, Peiris-John R, et al. Family meals and adolescent emotional well-being: findings from a national study. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2017; 49(1).