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Cooking with Class: Healthy Habits You Teach Kids in the Kitchen

By Martha Michael

Cooking with Kids

Much like the chemical reaction between ingredients in a recipe, there’s a parent-child bond that develops when you spend time cooking with your kids. While the psychological benefit is substantial enough, it also provides an opportunity for skill-building and instruction leading to healthier food choices as they get older.

Growth and Development

More than just ingredients are going into the mix when you and your little one get creative in the kitchen. According to Yellow Brick Road, an early childhood development center’s website, there’s a wide range of developmental advantages for children who learn to cook.

Following directions - Like most manuals, recipes are step-by-step guides for creating tasty food. Kids can learn to follow linear instructions, beginning to end, and be positively reinforced for their efforts.

Increasing creativity - Giving a child the opportunity to concoct an original food combination lays a foundation for other creative ventures. Kids learn they can invent tasty adventures without following someone else’s script.

Improving motor skills - Pinching, dipping, and pouring are some of the ways a young child can be helpful in the kitchen. Older kids can roll, measure, knead and take part in more advanced cooking tasks that further develop the motor skills involved in food preparation.

Bonding with parents - There are few things that offer more connection between individuals than working toward a common goal. Cooking together is more than a block of quantity time; the whole family benefits from a healthy meal while the cooks walk away with pride in a job well done as well as another chapter of shared memories.

An article by KidsHealth says that cooking with preschoolers introduces math skills and expands their vocabulary while also providing broader benefits. When you give them the kinds of steps they can complete independently, it contributes to a greater sense of confidence.

Be sure to assign them age-appropriate tasks -- both for the sake of the flavor of your food and to give them a sense of confidence. Ideas for cooking with kids between the ages of 3 and 5 include:

  • Handling the cookbook or iPad
  • Adding toppings to pizza
  • Tearing lettuce
  • Holding measuring cups
  • Stirring batter
  • Sampling dough
  • Squeezing citrus

Forging a Healthy Diet

If baking is your jam, it doesn’t have to include sugary cupcakes and icing made with lard. By sharing the experience with an adult, a child can learn to create healthier versions of classic desserts. You can teach them healthy baking hacks as well as simply reducing the sugar in recipes. By drawing their attention to what goes into their mouth, a youngster picks up on priorities from reducing their calorie intake to avoiding preservatives and other harmful chemicals.

An article by Yummly has tips for bumping up the benefits when baking with kids. To make recipes healthier, begin by reducing the quantity of sugar and fat by using substitutes. You can add less sugar by including foods with natural sweeteners such as bananas or other fruit. Oil can be replaced by avocado, Greek yogurt, applesauce, and fruit puree. You can reduce your intake of trans fats with low-fat cream cheese as a replacement for butter.

There are also health benefits to adding ingredients to your recipes. While kids may balk at eating plain yogurt or healthy, nutrient-dense foods, you can sneak them into batter to get more protein and whole grains into their diet. Carrots and zucchini, for instance, are commonly used in dessert recipes.

As kids get older, they can help Mom and Dad with meal planning, which is a way to double down on messaging about their future food choices. By taking them from beginning to end -- creating a calendar, grocery shopping, cooking, and serving meals – they’re also taking a step toward greater independence.

There are long-term benefits to cooking with kids beginning with the possibility of making memories that last a lifetime. It’s also an organic mode of instruction in which the kitchen is the classroom and they take away practical advice from specific techniques to healthy meal planning.

If you’re a health-conscious parent who already includes your kids in the kitchen, you’re probably seeing (and tasting) the desired outcome. It’s also good to know that in addition to healthier dishes on the family dinner table there are other benefits, such as personal growth and bonding, that are baked into the process.

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