Article: Kids in the KitchenMay 8th, 2012 | by Pam Stuppy
Published in: Articles
Printed in Seacoast Online
Everywhere we turn we hear the message that our nation’s kids need to eat better. This is obviously a very complex issue, but there are some steps families can take to improve the overall health of the next generations.
Teaching children the basic principles of eating healthfully can improve their chances of a lifetime of good health. Getting them involved in the planning, purchasing and preparation of nutritious foods gives them the tools they need as they get older. Having them help to grow the food, as in a family garden, is another idea. Remember, too, that children tend to follow the behaviors of their parents, so modeling positive eating habits is important as well.
Studies show that children are more likely to eat the foods they grow, choose at the grocery store, and/or prepare. These activities often expand the variety of foods they enjoy and can mean a wider range of nutrients consumed. It is also a good tactic for children who are picky eaters.
Getting children excited about planning and planting vegetable and herb gardens, along with fruit-producing plants and bushes can enhance their awareness and appreciation of the food production process. It can provide a sense of satisfaction and pride, and give them a chance to practice being responsible. Just imagine how important your 5 year old would feel going out to the garden to pick some vegetables or herbs that he or she helped grow, for the family dinner.
Many parents are concerned about food additives, pesticides and other contaminants in the food supply, especially when it comes to feeding their children. Because they are not processed like many of the foods available today, foods grown in a home garden contain numerous nutrients for growth, development, and health.
Teaching children and teens the basics of meal planning can introduce the ideas promoted by the new “My Plate” image (www.choosemyplate.gov). For example, when they plan a dinner, they should try to make at least half the plate fruit and vegetables, a quarter of the plate a lean protein, and the other quarter of the plate a whole grain. The meals should also contain a source of calcium (like low-fat milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, cheese, or a calcium-fortified item like soy milk).
Even very young children enjoy helping with the grocery shopping. As they get older, get them involved in label reading. It can be a great teaching tool about making healthy choices. You can make it fun by having them play detective. An example might be to have them look at cereal boxes to find the ones higher in fiber. Or you can ask them to find soup or pasta sauce with the lowest sodium. Label-reading and guidance about how to choose healthy foods will be increasingly important as they get older and make choices on their own.
When it comes to cooking, your child’s (or grandchild’s) level of involvement will depend on their age. Allow them to participate as much as possible so they feel like they are a major part of the process and outcome. Initially, allowing them to assist you in the kitchen may take a little more time, but eventually, they may be able to take over some of the activities needed for meal preparation.
Very young children love to stir things together. They feel very important with a whisk or wooden spoon and bowl of pancake batter or muffin mix. They can also pour ingredients from a measuring cup. An easy recipe for a young child (that can be enjoyed immediately or frozen into Popsicles) is a yogurt and fruit smoothie. They can also add frozen vegetables to a pan before it is put on the stove or dump frozen blueberries into muffin batter. A fun activity might be for them to help plan a picnic for friends and/or a favorite doll or teddy bear.
Children who are a little older can help measure ingredients. Those who can read, might enjoy calling out the ingredients as they are needed for a recipe. Recipes that have a picture of the finished product are great for kids and adults alike.
Knives and cooking on the stove should be reserved for older children after special instructions and guidance from an adult. Teens might like to create items like a stir fry, salad, or pasta dish. They can also go online to look for healthy recipes. Older children and teens might enjoy being in charge of planning and preparing one or more meals each week. They could also plan and prepare healthy foods for a party.
Cooking together can be a fun family activity and provides an opportunity for quality family time. Studies suggest that families who eat more meals together at home, tend to consume closer to the recommended intake of nutrients. As children learn basic cooking skills, when they do eat out, they have a better understanding of how foods have been prepared. This is especially helpful when they leave home to live on their own.
Some parents have not had the opportunity to learn basic cooking themselves. In this case, friends or other family members can be a good resource. Healthy cooking classes might be available in some communities. Some grocery stores have dietitians who give grocery store tours and talk about how to choose healthy foods.
Think about all the fun ways you can help the children and teens in your life learn more about the path toward a lifetime of healthy eating.