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!