One of my good friends, Adriana S. was texting me last week as she was choosing and preparing recipes on The Whole Meal’s website, as well as providing #nomnom and #yummy feedback. She also shared that the site inspired her to get her kids, Nico and Tati, (and her husband) involved by having them choose on the weekend what they want to eat for the following week (The Whole Meal does make it easy and fun to pick healthy, delicious recipes that you pop into your very own M-F and Weekend boxes).
Brilliant idea Adriana! And it was the light bulb moment for me to want to write on kids and cooking and the positive impact it has on families/kids on so many levels. I am a fan of list so here are top 5 best reasons and top 5 best ways to get your kids into the kitchen:
Top 5 Best Reasons Why Kids Should Cook:
1. Bond with Family: I would actually say this is the number one reason. When you are in an intimate setting, such as your kitchen, sharing how to prepare passed down family or new recipes your children feel they are part of something larger than themselves (rather than their very disconnected tech/social media-driven lives). There is that sense of responsibility that comes from the trust you place in them with such an important task as eating. You’ll also get them relaxed which mean they are more apt to share with you what is going on in their lives.
2. They’ll Try New Foods: This may be the most important reason for those of us with the picky eaters who can’t get beyond PB&J or mac and cheese. If they cook something they are more likely to want to eat it too. It gets them to interact with foods they may have been intimidated with but natural curiosity will probably override that fear (disgust?). How can they resist a nibble or two of something he/she prepared? Which leads to Reason #3……
3. Builds Self-Esteem: Reason # 2 will most likely be a by-product of self-esteem (of course I want to try what I just did all by myself!). Mastering something themselves and feeling that amazing sense of accomplishment also has that ripple effect in other areas of their lives.
4. Teaches Them “School” Without It Feeling Like School: Math: fractions ( 1/4 cup, 1/2 cup) and geometry (11×9 baking pan); Reading: reading a recipe shows an ends to means rather than just grasping its value beyond knowing “cat” means the creature on your lap. Also helps you understand process of following directions; Chemistry: most of cooking is a series of chemical reactions! Helps you be a better cook and also understand when things go wrong- those that bake probably get this the most;)
5. Teaches Them A Life Long Skill: It does not get more basic than knowing how to cook. I know, we live in the world of “snap your finger and processed/take out foods appear” but is that really what you want for your kids as a life long skill? I think at the top of my list would be self-sufficient (yup, cooking teaches that), healthy (yup, kids that cook tend to eat more fruits and vegetables, which help combat disease later in life), tolerant of differences in others (yup, cooking recipes from all over the planet exposes you to other cultures and makes you realize we have more in common on this planet than not), and we already discussed self-esteem (Reason #3).
Top 5 Best Ways to Get Your Kids in the Kitchen:
1. Planning What You Want to Eat: subscribe to The Whole Meal, like Adriana, and your kids can do it all- pick recipes, ingredients, have a shopping list, and even cook! Ok sorry- shameless plug, but I really do feel like TWM is a fun way to get kids interested in cooking. Kids are one of the most important reasons why I started The Whole Meal- my mission is to help families (and anyone looking for whole foods-based recipes) eat well with minimal effort so those Top 5 Reasons and their benefits just happen!
2. Bring Them to the Food: Take them to the grocery store, farmer’s markets, co-ops, and especially your gardens and the farms. Again we are taking advantage of kids’ inherent curiosity and excitement. Have them choose- children have great visual instinct and most fruits and vegetables are so colorful, some unusual- it’s a feast for the eyes. The more they see, touch, hear, taste, the more apt they are going to want to translate that experience in the kitchen.
3. Bribe Them With Their Sweet Tooth: Yes, its easiest to get them to bake, as what kid can resist cookies, cakes, muffins. Find healthy ways to reinvent a family favorite or use homemade baked goods as a good example of the 80/20 rule: if you eat well 80% of the time, you can eat what you want the other 20%. So white flour, 1 stick of butter, white sugar cupcakes do have a place in life. It also gets their taste buds used to higher quality, well made desserts so they’ll be less apt to want the highly processed Chips Ahoy cookie over Grandmom’s famous chocolate chip cookie recipe (and even better if your kids are baking that recipe with Grandmom!)
4. Watch Food Movies: The Silver Screen and its natural affinity to the visual appeal of food can get you so jazzed to put on an apron and whip up something in the kitchen. Start the younger set with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (I recommend the original version) and Ratatouille. By their early teen years, they are ready to watch Julia and Julia, Food Inc., Super Size Me, and Tortilla Soup. Older teens, especially those that love foreign films or as a means to introduce your teens to this amazing genre of movies (and you may want to watch/rewatch with them because of R ratings), will enjoy Big Night, Like Water for Chocolate, Babette’s Feast, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, and Eat Drink Man Woman.
5. Enjoy the Experience: When your kids see you relaxed, having a glass of wine and streaming your favorite iTunes from your iPad perhaps, as you chop, stir, and fold they may be more apt to join you. More importantly they will sense that cooking, especially for those you love, is not a chore or duty rather it is an act of unconditional love. Likewise, set a proper table, light candles, make it fun and beautiful to eat. This may be the only chance any of you have had a chance to slow down and savor the moment. My youngest has taken to making our kitchen and dining area “Gigi’s Cafe”. She sets the table, lights candles, takes our order (we always order the “special of the day”), and serves us and clears our plates when we are done. It may not happen every night, but frequent enough that I think as a family we will always remember our Gigi’s Cafe meals as some of the best we’d ever had.
Ready to get in the kitchen with the kids? It’s as simple as make your favorite family recipe, peruse cookbooks and favorite food blogs or try some of these kid-tested, kid-favorite recipes from The Whole Meal:
So whether you are like Adriana and have your kids help choose the meals you eat together as a family (preferably with The Whole Meal doing most of the work for you;) or have them actually prepare a recipe- with or without you (Adriana as a full time Ob/Gyn doctor fits in cooking with her kids on the weekends)- there are clearly many reasons and ways for children to interact with food other than the end result of just eating.