Friday, September 20th, 2013
If a recent article in the Wall Street Journal—“Does It Count as a Family Dinner If It’s Over in Eight Minutes?”—is any indicator of how time-rushed and overscheduled all of us are, is there any chance we parents can expect to raise kids who learn to, or want to, cook?
Of course key influencers like Michael Pollan and Mollie Katzen help more and more parents and their kids get into the kitchen. Pollan speaks to the importance of cooking in his latest book, Cooked, and Katzen inspires children and parents alike to cook with her many cookbooks, including her latest—The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation.
Despite the inspiration, many harried parents may still feel they don’t have the time or skills needed to pass along cooking tips and know-how to their children. The good news is that when you break it down, it doesn’t take much to get kids—especially little ones—interested in cooking.
Below you’ll find six expert tips to help you instill excitement, adventure, and ritual into preparing family meals. Following these tips will help you help your kids develop fine motor and other skills. It will also teach them the value and joy associated with family meals, and give them bonding experiences—and memories—that are sure to last a lifetime.
Start with the basics. Since most young children are new to food preparation, Melissa Herrmann Dierks RDN, LDN, CDE suggests starting with the basics. “My 5-year-old old son and I start every meal by washing our hands and making sure that the food preparation area is clean,” says Dierks.
Be prepared. Culinary nutritionist Jessica Cox, RD, encourages parents to allow kids to help with age-appropriate preparation tasks. “Depending on your child’s age, he or she can help wash fresh produce, cut and chop ingredients, shred and grate, mash, crack and separate eggs, tear lettuce leaves, remove herbs from stems, and snap asparagus,” says Cox.
Master the measure. Besides being good math practice, both Cox and Dierks agree learning to measure different kinds of foods has its perks for kids.”You can use this opportunity to teach older children the difference between dry ingredient and liquid measuring cups and to practice math skills and measurement conversions,” says Cox. Dierks encourages her son to measure and add ingredients, and to count when adding eggs to a recipe, for example. She says, “My son loves to make pudding, which includes measuring, stirring and pouring as well as the food safety tip of not licking the whisk! He also likes to help with chicken recipes that involve coating the chicken and adding toppings or shaking it in a baggie of panko or cornflake crumbs.” She adds, “Spraying the cooking dish with non-stick cooking spray is also a favorite, especially for small children.”
Stay safe. Dierks teaches her son basic food safety including not touching food with hands and keeping foods at the appropriate temperatures. She also teaches him basic kitchen safety such as how to stir a hot food on top of the range without touching the hot pan, and shows him how to do things like take a hot dish out of the oven.
Embrace the chaos…and have fun! Laura Chalela Hoover, MPH, RDN, Editor of Smart Eating for Kids, encourages parents to keep cooking with the kids light and fun. She says, “If your kids are on the young-side, don’t expect perfection. And don’t expect things to stay neat and tidy. Embrace the mess and chaos and take solace in knowing that you’re not only bonding with your child, but you’re teaching him or her important skills.” For parents who don’t have the time or energy to involve their children in preparing a real meal, Hoover recommends food-related science experiments or finding other ways to help kids explore food.
How do you encourage your kids to cook or help out when you prepare family meals?
Image of two kids measuring and mixing into large mixing bowl via Shutterstock.
Add a Comment
Thursday, May 16th, 2013
Leanne, a reader of The Scoop on Food, recently asked, “How does a family with children who have very different nutritional needs and food preferences handle mealtimes?” In an email, she explained her struggle to feed her children who have different body types and appetites. “My 15 year-old son is slim, athletic and has limited food preferences, and my 11 year-old daughter is a little overweight, but she’s athletic and eats and enjoys a lot of healthy foods. I try to feed them well, but feel like I constantly shove food down my son’s throat and yell at my daughter not to eat.”
If you have more than one child, it’s likely you can relate to this mom’s struggle—at least some of the time. According to Jill Castle, co-author (with Maryann Jacobsen) of the new book, Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School, “Besides having multiple mouths to feed, parents need to be aware that each child’s needs change as they grow. Parents need to be prepared to help their children move through different stages of growth and development.” The good news, according to Castle, is that parents can make it easier on themselves and their children by streamlining feeding and mealtimes.
To help you feed your children to meet their unique nutritional needs at any stage and keep mealtimes pleasant, I asked Castle and Jacobsen—both registered dietitians—to provide their perpectives on a few feeding matters. Here are some of the highlights from our conversation.
EZ: Because parents are so time-crunched, do you think it’s ok for us to be short order cooks? Or should we feed all family members the same foods at mealtimes?
JC: Ask any parent who has become a short-order cook, and most will tell you they dread it. It makes feeding the family an exercise in drudgery. We encourage parents to provide one meal for the whole family.
MJ: Eating one meal together helps to gradually expand children’s palates. Bringing children into the meal planning process by asking for their input can help make mealtimes more pleasant. It’s good to have some nights where the meal is something the children like. On other nights, parents can offer something new or something that’s disliked along with side dishes that they know their children enjoy.
EZ: What if you have one child who is a big eater, and another who isn’t much of an eater?
MJ: The feeding strategy should be the same for all children. In fact, research shows that pressuring a thin child to eat causes them to eat less. At the same time, trying to get an overweight child to eat less makes him want to eat even more. The key is to support appetite regulation in all children by offering balanced meals in a timely and structured way.
In Fearless Feeding, we show parents appropriate portion sizes for children. But we also encourage parents to let children eat until they are full. And during growth spurts, children will need extra helpings of food to feel full. Emerging research shows that young adults who allow hunger and fullness cues to guide their eating have lower weights and fewer eating problems.
EZ: Do you think it’s better to plate foods in different portions to meet each child’s needs, or to offer foods family style?
JC: We recommend offering all the food groups in the meal plan using a family-style approach. You can place entrées and side dishes on plates or bowls in the center of the table and have family members pass them around the table. Each person can then select what he or she will eat (from what is served) and how much. This feeding method gives children a say in what and how much they eat, but keeps the parent in charge of the meal. It also trains children to self-regulate their food intake over time. What helps this approach be effective is for parents include one or two items on the table that their children are comfortable with, such as milk and/or fruit, and avoid using “replacement items” at the table or offering a “supplement meal” after the meal is over.
MJ: Besides helping children feel like they have some control at mealtimes, offering foods family style may, over time, make children more willing to try new or previously disliked foods. Since children’s taste preferences aren’t fully formed, they need plenty of opportunities to try new foods. Even children who choose not to try something will at least be exposed to different foods and will benefit from watching others at the table eat the item. Food acceptance in children is a slow process, and trying to speed it up often backfires.
EZ: Any other words of wisdom to help parents feed their children with different needs in positive and empowering ways?
JC: When parents dictate what their child will eat, or even how much they will eat, a potentially negative dynamic around eating performance gets created. Either the child is performing well with eating, or not. That’s when conflict, judgment and negative feeding practices can get rooted, and table drama begins. It doesn’t have to be so stressful. We wrote Fearless Feeding to take the stress out of feeding children at all ages and stages and to make mealtimes not only more nutritious, but more pleasant and productive as well.
Full disclosure: The publisher provided me with a complimentary copy of Fearless Feeding.
Image of family raising their glasses together before eating via Shutterstock.
Add a Comment