When it comes to spending time with your kids and teaching them to make healthy choices, there’s no such thing as too many cooks in the kitchen.
Allowing your children to work alongside you while you’re cooking dinner, washing produce or trying new recipes not only gives them something to do during the cold winter months when playing outdoors might not be an option, but it also has myriad health and relationship benefits that can be felt at all stages of childhood.
Whether your child is three years old or 16 years old, studies show there aren’t many downsides to spending time in the hub of the house.
One 2012 study surveyed fifth graders in 151 schools in Alberta, Canada on the correlation between making healthy food choices and spending time working in the kitchen.
The study found children involved in meal preparation were more interested in nutrition and had healthier diets than those who did not spend time in the kitchen meal prepping.
It also showed children who participated in meal prep more frequently had a higher preference for fruits and vegetables.
Leah Smith, owner of Kids Kitchen, says children need to be introduced to healthy foods in a creative, fun approach at a young age.
Smith, a registered dietitian and nutritionist, operates out of Austin, Texas and offers kid-focused cooking classes and videos on how to build skills in the kitchen.
She says putting kids to work in the kitchen helps them build confidence, even if they are simply tearing lettuce or measuring one ingredient.
Here are four reasons Smith says we should get kids involved in the kitchen:
1. It helps broaden their taste buds
Kids are often picky eaters. By introducing them to a variety of foods at a young age, you’ll help them be more accepting of different tastes and flavors.
2. It helps build confidence
A child who can properly handle a knife or read recipe instructions is a confident child, Smith says. Along the same lines, when a child has a hand in completing a tasty dish that is enjoyed by all, they feel a sense of accomplishment.
3. It’s a means of bonding
Spending time in the kitchen with mom, dad or grandma and grandpa helps kids build relationships with loved ones instead of with an electronic device, Smith says.
4. It teaches them about nutrition
Smith talks plainly about the benefits of fruits and vegetables with her children. She says she doesn’t hide the fact that the pumpkin her children put in their waffles is a healthy vegetable, and the spinach her students add to smoothies has amazing nutritional benefits.
It might be tough to get kids enthusiastic about spending time in the kitchen, prepping meals and going to the grocery store. Smith recommends using these tools to get children motivated:
1. Plan a recipe together
Allow your child to have a say in what you’re cooking. Pore over a new recipe book together, or browse Pinterest for what appeals to your child and let them have some control over what meals will be served each day.
2. Think of cooking as an extracurricular activity
Much like date night, instead of going to the movies or letting the kids play video games, suggest a few hours in the kitchen to keep the kids entertained.
3. Assign kitchen duty
Smith says once her kids reach middle school, they’ll be responsible for cooking dinner once a week. By adding cooking to the list of chores, parents will enforce the values of healthy eating and home cooking.
4. Attend a cooking class
Smith says the best combination for success involves allowing the child to learn in a cooking class and then apply what they’ve learned in their own kitchen. She has seen students who have attended her cooking classes want to make healthy meals, such as zucchini noodles or spinach and strawberry smoothies, repeatedly outside of the classroom.