I am hugely passionate about building a strong foundation of health for children, so that they don’t spend a large chunk of their lives attempting to undo bad habits or with chronic health conditions. One really impactful way to do this is to teach them how to cook nutritious home cooked meals from scratch. This builds confidence in the kitchen and is an incredibly valuable life skill to have so that when they eventually leave home they know how to cook and won’t need to rely on takeaways and nutritionally poor foods. It is also a really nice way to mindfully spend time with your children in a way that is really fun for the whole family.
There is continually more emphasis being placed on the importance of teaching children to eat healthy nutritious foods, due to the prevalence of childhood obesity, the behavior and learning implications of nutritional deficiencies and obesity related health issues. Did you know that one in nine of our New Zealand children are classified as being obese? Our childhood obesity rates really highlight the importance of education for children about nutrition and how to cook homemade meals.
As a parent it is often a battle to get children to eat healthy foods, they are inundated with advertising and clever marketing that promotes and encourages less than ideal foods, such as sugar laden cereals and juices with their favorite cartoon characters, or sports heroes on the packaging. It is everywhere you look, and in our busy modern society takeaways have become the norm and not just a treat anymore.
As a busy mum of four myself I have felt plenty of mum guilt at times for looking for easy meal options that aren’t as nutritious as I would like out of time constraints and food preferences of my children. Thankfully now I have a far less idealistic view on nutrition for my family and realise that there is no such thing as being the perfect Mum and that it is perfectly healthy for families to also have treat foods, and to enjoy them occasionally without guilt while ensuring majority of the time they are eating well.
Teaching my own children, and others at a local primary school how to cook different meals has been a really rewarding experience. Children love to learn through ‘doing’ and are far more receptive to trying new foods when they are involved in the cooking process. One of my favorite things to do it to write a list of their favorite foods, this is very predictable with kids and generally consists of pizza, burgers and fries then discuss how we can make these foods at home and what we can do to add in extra nutrients. For example, Pita pizzas with different herbs, vegetables and homemade pizza sauce, burger patties with mince and grated vegetables, hand cut and oven baked kumara fries etc.
You can make this really fun by making a recipe together, formulating a shopping list and letting them help find the ingredients, my three-year-old loves this! There are so many great cookbooks and websites that offer great ideas and tips these days. Some of my favorites include.
- A great resource for all things vegetables including nutritional information, preparation tips, and educational resources https://www.vegetables.co.nz/
- A great resource of recipes & children’s goal setting charts for healthy eating https://www.healthykids.org.nz/
A personal favourite for lots of delicious kid friendly nutritious recipes would have to be Nadia Lim’s Kid section on her website https://nadialim.com/?sfid=974&_sft_meals_courses=kid-friendly
For my older boys one activity that they really loved from around the age of five was picking a country, then looking for one of their traditional dishes and cooking it. The most loved one that was often repeated was Mexican fiesta night with tacos, pepitas and guacamole. This is a really fun way to get children in the kitchen and trying new foods. I have also found meal subscriptions like HelloFresh great for the older kids as everything they need including a simple recipe card is all included. They get really excited when they are making dinner themselves and it creates a huge feeling of accomplishment in them and also as a mum!
Other skills that are strengthened when it comes to cooking with children include basic maths in younger children through counting and measuring. This also builds communication and language skills by discussing ingredients and recipes. Pre-schoolers are well known for being fussy eaters, encouraging them to explore different foods and textures by involving them in meal time preparation can really help to broaden their palate. You can also talk about how healthy foods help us to grow and the differences between different foods such fruits and vegetables, or for older children carbohydrates, protein and fats.
This can also be a great time to explore mindful eating by engaging the difference senses during food preparation. Exploring the different appearances, textures, smells, tastes and sounds of food, exploring this is a wonderful way to be engaged for children and parents.
Most importantly have fun with it, you’re teaching your children an incredibly important life skill that will benefit them for years to come, instilling independence and not to mention eventually some time out from cooking yourself – win,win!