When Kids Help Cook, Healthy Family Meals Are Easier

daughter helping father with recipe on tablet

Want to help your kids develop healthy eating habits for life? Include them in meal planning, shopping and cooking. It’s a great way to teach new skills and make eating healthier food routine. And you’ll have an extra pair of hands helping at mealtime, too!

Get kids interested in cooking.

Seeing other kids cook can provide inspiration. Try watching one of the popular kids’ cooking shows on television or YouTube, where kids are doing everything from helping an adult chef to creating complex dishes and meals on their own. Look at cooking magazines and websites together. Find cookbooks for kids at your library or bookstore for age-appropriate cooking projects and more inspiration.

Let kids plan the menu.

Letting kids help plan and prepare meals can get them familiar with different ingredients and make them more interested in trying new foods.

Empower your kids to plan the family menu for at least one meal each week. Set some rules so they’re focusing on healthy stuff. And don’t forget to talk about healthy portion sizes. This is also a great chance to help kids learn the basics of why each food group is important.

  • Milk and dairy products help build strong bones.
  • Lean meats, fish, beans and nuts provide protein, which gives us energy.
  • Fruit and vegetables contain essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fiber. Build a “rainbow” of colors into your meals to maximize variety.
  • Whole-grain foods can provide the fiber our bodies need to function.

Take the kids to the grocery store.

Having your kids go with you to the grocery store helps them learn about the variety of foods available, see how meals are made from the different food groups and begin to understand a budget. It’s also a great time to talk about what makes some foods healthier than others.

Encourage kids to try new things by letting them select a fruit or vegetable they’ve never had and find a recipe to use it. (You might just expand the whole family’s taste buds!)

Have kids learn how to navigate the store by finding items on a shopping list. Challenge older kids to read nutrition labels to identify healthier choices:

  • Watch for added sugars, which add calories but don’t help you maintain energy throughout the day. Common culprits include sweetened drinks, canned fruit (avoid ones packed in heavy syrup), cereals and flavored yogurt.
  • Watch out for sodium in canned and other processed foods, and look for lower-salt versions.
  • Choose products made with whole grains instead of refined grains like white flour or white rice.
  • Choose foods that are low in saturated fat. Opt for healthier monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats instead.

Have patience with picky eaters.

Facing resistance to a meal you’ve made? Take a deep breath and remember that kids (and adults) may need to try things up to a dozen times, in different forms and situations, before deciding if they like it.

Here are some tips for introducing new foods:

  • Offer new foods at the start of a meal or at snack time, when kids are most hungry. Always ask them to try one bite and keep an open mind. Over time they may discover new favorites.
  • If resistance is strong, try again in a few days rather than gearing up for a showdown that may turn them off to trying new foods.
  • Model healthy eating as a family. Offer the same foods for everyone, rather than catering to pickier individuals like a short-order cook. Introduce one new food at a time, and make sure each meal includes something the whole family likes.

Stay safe in the kitchen.

Cooking with kids takes planning and supervision to ensure that no one gets hurt. Keep a step stool or tall chair nearby so kids can observe and help safely. Identify age-appropriate tasks. Younger kids can help gather ingredients from the pantry or refrigerator, wash fruits and veggies, and pour and stir ingredients. Older kids can measure ingredients, chop fruits and veggies, and learn how to use the stove and oven safely.

Bringing your kids into the kitchen with you will help teach them lifelong skills and habits to keep them healthy for good!


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