The two main concerns I hear from parents around feeding their kids are about picky eaters and making sure their kids are eating healthy. Starting from a young age, inspiring children to shop, cook and prepare food can set them up for a lifetime of healthy eating. Yet, a recent Ipsos survey found that 38 per cent of parents rarely or never let their child prepare a meal or snack. Dietitians can help you to shop for and prepare nourishing meals, giving children the power to discover better health as they grow. Here are four tips to help achieve a happier meal time and encourage healthy eating habits in children by teaching them to shop and cook.
Step 1: Start At The Beginning
Children need to be part of the plan from the beginning, and it helps if they choose and prepare something that they love to eat. Take your kids to the grocery store or farmer’s market. Teaching kids how to shop for food is an important life skill.
If your kids are old enough you could pick a recipe and go shopping together. If the thought of taking more than one kid grocery shopping causes you to panic, consider taking one on a day you have help for the others and making this a special thing to do with a parent or caregiver.
Time is a limited resource for many of us and sometimes kids can really slow us down during a big shop. On days when taking your kids with you is not an option, get your kids’ input on the grocery list. For example, if you’re planning to buy green vegetables, ask them what they’d like best: broccoli, peas, green beans, spinach, lettuce, celery or cabbage? Give them a choice.
Giving them a choice also helps them feel like they have control which is a big underlying reason for many toddler feeding problems.
Step 2: Inspire
There are many ways to inspire your kids, but the #1 way is for the parent or caregiver to be a role model: If you’re excited, they will be too. Head to your nearest grocery store or farmer’s market and taste something new or try a new recipe, describe the flavour and be adventurous to inspire your kids to do the same. If you are looking for some new recipe ideas, check out www.cookspiration.com. One of my favourites is the Asian Sesame Chicken Chopped Salad. If you aren’t feeling adventurous but want your kids to get inspired you can try these ideas instead:
- Call your local public health department wrha.mb.ca/community/publichealth/services-nutrition.php or boys and girls club http://www.bgcwinnipeg.ca/ to see if they offer cooking programs for children.
- Many kids cooking programs are offered as part of a camp during the summer months. Kids in the Kitchen is a program that some community centres or after school programs offer.
- Get inspired together by taking a cooking class through the Leisure Guide. https://www.winnipeg.ca/cms/recreation/leisure/leisureguide.stm
- Look into a community garden, start a small herb/vegetable garden in your yard, or take your kids to a strawberry farm or pumpkin patch.
Step 3: Involve Them In Meal Preparation
It can be fun and rewarding to involve kids in meal preparation – whether it’s at breakfast, lunch, dinner or anything in between. By involving kids in preparing meals, you can nurture healthy eating habits, increase their self-confidence, share culture and family traditions, give them hands-on learning experiences, stay connected and spend quality time together, encourage picky eaters to try foods they helped prepare and set the foundation for children to learn and improve food skills. Like planning or shopping for food, the ability to prepare meals is also an important life skill that can set them up for a lifetime of healthy eating.
Everyone can help prepare meals.
Make it easy by giving each person a task such as: setting the table, measuring ingredients or preparing and making the food. When you teach your children basic food skills, don’t forget to go over kitchen safety rules. Show them how to use kitchen tools such as a grater, peeler or can opener safely. Here are some age-specific tasks to help you successfully involve your kids in meal preparation.
wash vegetables and fruit or tear lettuce and salad greens
help set the table
add ingredients to a bowl
mash potatoes and bananas or mix together batters
help gather ingredients
pour from measuring cups
help make a sandwich or pizza
measure dry and liquid ingredients
set the table
stir ingredients together
use a children’s knife to slice soft foods such as, tofu, soft fruits or cooked vegetables
toss salad ingredients together
make a simple breakfast
use basic kitchen equipment such as a blender or can opener
crack and beat an egg
make their own school lunch
help to plan meals
use a knife to cut easy-to-grip vegetables and fruit, cooked meat, bread or tofu.
use the microwave and stove, with your help
follow more complicated recipes
assemble and mix most ingredients
be in charge of making one meal per week
make their own lunch
Kids probably won’t be as fast or as clean as you would be during meal preparation. Spills and accidental messes happen, and it’s important to remain calm. Remember to keep the tasks age specific and be cool about the mess.
Step 4: Eat Meals Together
For many people, sharing meals is a favourite time of day to interact with family and friends. It allows people to connect, learn, communicate and listen.
Children who eat with their family have more nutritious diets, better academic performance and less risk of eating disorders. Plus, children tend to have increased intake of vegetables and fruit, and a decreased intake of sugar-sweetened beverages. Keep it fun! Imaginative play helps children get deeply involved. Make a theme night or turn your kitchen into a restaurant.
Teens who share family meals get better grades, and are less likely to smoke, use drugs or alcohol, or to participate in serious fights.
Adults who eat with friends and family tend to eat more vegetables and fruits, drink less pop, eat fewer meals at fast food restaurants, and have lower body mass indexes.
If you are new to family meals, here are some do’s and don’ts:
- Do give everyone at the table a chance to speak.
- Don’t use it as a time to scold or discipline picky eaters.
- Do ask questions that require more than a “yes” or “no” answer. So, instead of “did you have a good day?” try asking “tell me something interesting that happened today.”
Sharing family meals doesn’t only mean dinner. If your evening schedule is hectic, share breakfast meals or have brunch together on the weekends. Most studies done on the benefits of family meals start with sharing at least four meals together per week. They all count!
Thank you for reading these four steps for happier raising an intuitive eater. Friendly reminder that raising an intuitive eater is the easiest if you learn to eat intuitively yourself.
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