Involving Children in the Kitchen
I always say, “If they prepare it, they will eat it.” It is important to invite children to help in the kitchen.
Flavor is a sensory experience. It is a combination of smell, taste, and touch. Kids learn by engaging all five senses, so what better way for them to learn about new healthy foods than by seeing, touching, tasting, and smelling the food as they help cook it?
Have them select recipes, share the shopping experience if possible, and finally, have them prepare the dish or at least assist you. Make sure you choose age-appropriate tasks, but don’t underestimate their abilities. Kids can wash veggies and fruit, depending on their age and skill level. They might be able to assist you in chopping and mixing ingredients.
By making the process of preparing meals a joyous and fun activity, kids are more likely to develop a healthy relationship with food. My girls, for instance, read cook books like novels. My young teen has subscriptions for food blogs and she’s constantly experimenting in the kitchen. I appreciate getting a day off from the kitchen once in a while.
In school, my girls take their own lunches from home. Often, they bring leftovers from dinner the night before or from earlier in the week. They heat their meals up in the morning before they go to school and take them to school in insulated containers.
If we don’t have leftovers, they usually make sandwiches, wraps, or burgers using a variety of dips, kale pesto, hummus, or guacamole. These can be filled with tofu, tempeh, previously prepared burgers or veggies. I frequently get phone calls from parents asking for recipes after their kids had a bite of my kids’ lunch.
Some basic cooking skills ideal for young children to learn include:
- Washing fruits and vegetables; e.g., carrots, potatoes, mushrooms, grapes
- Cutting food with scissors; e.g., apricots, dates, herbs
- Using measuring spoons and cups; e.g., frozen veggies, flour
- Tearing food; e.g., herbs, lettuce
- Snapping green beans or snap peas, or florets from broccoli or cauliflower
- Crumbling food; e.g., tofu
- Arranging toppings; e.g., pizza, oatmeal
- Spreading with the back of a spoon; e.g., tomato sauce on pizza
- Scooping; e.g., baked potato
- Mashing food; e.g., potato, chickpeas
- Sprinkling herbs and spices
Additional helpful resources include:
- Dealing with Picky Eaters (T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies)
- Nutrition for Kids — Plant-Based Diets for Infants, Children, and Teens (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine)
- Plant-Based Nutrition Quick Start Guide and Pediatric Guide (The Plantrician Project)