5 Reasons to Cook With Your Kids

When it comes to raising an adventurous eater, it isn’t just about coaxing kids to eat more fruits and veggies. Bringing up a child who can enjoy a cantaloupe as much as a cupcake takes patience and persistence, but it doesn’t have to feel like a chore.

Kids may need to have frequent joyful experiences involving food to overcome the anxiety they may have around tasting the unfamiliar. Cooking with your kids in the kitchen will help them overcome these fears and develop lifelong skills. Over time, cooking with your children can help build confidence about food choices, and provide them with rich sensory experiences.

Here are five ways to enjoy cooking with your children by your side and encourage adventurous eating:

1: Engage all of the senses.

For a hesitant eater, tasting an unfamiliar food can sometimes be intimidating. You can help your child explore foods by using other senses besides taste. This helps build positive associations with food. Kneading dough, rinsing vegetables, and tearing lettuce all involve touching food and growing comfortable with their textures. The complex flavors we experience when we eat come from taste, textures, appearance, and smell. If your child is hesitant to taste a new ingredient, encourage them to touch and smell it first; this provides a bridge to future tasting!
2: Use cooking to raise smarter kids.
There are many lessons that can be taught while cooking. Math concepts like counting, measuring, and using fractions naturally unfold when navigating a recipe. Explaining how food changes temperature or interacts with our bodies are great lessons in science. While cooking, practice new vocabulary words as you describe the ingredients, and how they taste, feel, and look. Following a recipe from start to finish helps to build the skills for planning and completing other projects.
3: Make cooking part of your family’s culture.
The family meal starts in the kitchen as you cook together. Family meal preparation is an opportunity to celebrate your cultural heritage by passing down recipes. Help your children find new, seasonal recipes they want to add to your family cookbook. Cooking together and prioritizing healthy eating over convenience is a great way to lead by example and encourage your child into a culture of wellness. Building these daily and seasonal traditions helps strengthen your entire family’s commitment to a healthy lifestyle.
4: Keep it safe.
Teach your young chefs the importance of staying safe while cooking by teaching them strong kitchen skills: how to safely use the tools, using oven mitts to protect from heat, and the proper way to use an appliance. Always supervise to ensure that they’re sticking with safe and age-appropriate tasks – they shouldn’t simply mimic you. A four-year old, for example, may have the fine motor skills to tear lettuce or wash oranges, but isn’t ready to wield a flaming saute pan. Keeping safety in mind, it isn’t difficult to get kids involved – even toddlers.
5: Ask for input.
Kids like to be included. Ask for their input on meal preparation. Collaborate with them when selecting dishes or recipes. Let them help with shopping lists, or task them with finding the right groceries or produce at the farmers market. When cooking, ask them to critique the food, and suggest things to enhance the flavor. Talk about how people enjoy different foods, and share your likes and dislikes with them. Letting children participate and “be in charge” sets the table, so to speak, for future investments in mealtime.

Over the years, cooking as a family will help to develop a happy, adventurous eater with some pretty valuable life skills – and plenty of happy memories in your home. With a bit of practice, one day your child will cook YOU a meal!

“Lunchables” Are Not The Answer

With everyone back in school and schedules growing busier, it’s easy to choose shortcuts when it comes to meal planning. Those ready-made meals and snacks, however, are not always the answer to good nutrition. It’s still healthier to cook at home and from scratch. We know that it takes more time, but it’s better for everyone. And eating together allows everyone in your family to communicate and find out how the day went.

The American Academy of Pediatrics published a great article to help parents fight back against the high levels of childhood obesity. It also talks about the importance of starting a healthy diet early in a child’s life.

In a 2015 study, researchers examined the sodium and sugar contents of 1,074 infant and toddler dinners, snacks, fruits, vegetables, dry cereals, juices and desserts. They found that a significant amount of these commercial meals and foods sold in the U.S. were very high in sodium and sugar. Out of 79 infant mixed grains and fruits, 41 contained at least one added sugar, and 35 got more than 35 percent of their calories from sugar. Seventy-two percent of toddler dinners were high in sodium, containing more than 210 mg per meal. On average, dry fruit-based snacks contained 60 grams of sugar and 66 percent of their calories from total sugars. The most common sugars were:
* Fruit Juice Concentrate (56%)
* Sugar (33%)
* Cane (20%)
* Syrup (15%)
* Malt (7%)

The researchers concluded that many types of infant and toddler foods had such high sugar and sodium content. These results are concerning, and we advise our parents to read nutrition labels when shopping, paying attention to which types and brands have lower amounts of added sugar and sodium.

Reducing sugar and sodium intake early on not only builds healthier children, it helps to set taste preferences and help those children make better food choices later in life.

Countdown to a Healthy Lifestyle

Many of you may be familiar with some of the slogans that are being developed to try and help all of us lead healthier lifestyles. One of these is “5-2-1-0.” It means: 5 helpings of fruits and vegetables, no more than 2 hours of screen time, at least 1 hour of activity, and 0 added sugars each and every day! “Fruits and vegetables” means FRESH fruits and vegetables that are cooked in a healthy manner and not slathered with butter and sugar. “Screen time” means all kinds of screens including TV, computers, DVDs, and phones. “Activity” means hard activity…a sport that makes you sweat, breathe hard, and your heart go pitter patter! “Zero sugar” means zero added sugar…no sodas, no juices, pop tarts… you name it. Drink lots of water and avoid the ever-present high fructose corn syrup as if your life depended on it….because it does.  
We would add one more number to the slogan and make it “9-5-2-1-0.” The nine would be for 9 hours of sleep. Sleep, especially for kids, is perhaps as important as activity. A lot of children don’t get enough and it can lead to over-eating and depression. Enforce an earlier bedtime at your house as another component of healthy living.

With the school year just beginning, it’s a great time to get your routines down now, and start living 9-5-2-1-0.

If any of you reading these articles have other great ideas to help us live healthier lives, please let us know.  We’re always looking for ways to help all our patients.