The photos of my 9-year-old son show him deftly skinning and finely slicing salmon. He was quite excited about being able to help prepare our dinner. My children aged 9 and 12 do not help me every night in the kitchen as it is not always practical. However, I do believe that I am responsible for showing them the basic skills in life to cook and stay well nourished. Furthermore, teaching our children to cook from an early age may just hold the solution to so many generational issues associated with poor nutrition.
FUSSY EATERS: possibly one of the best ways to encourage a fussy eater to try new foods is to offer them the opportunity to prepare something that they may enjoy eating. So often fussy eaters are given the staple few meals that they know they will eat. Offering them the opportunity to try new foods by engaging in the preparation may encourage them to break through bad habits and sensory barriers. When children are encouraged to cook they need to touch, smell and taste foods that may not normally be on their plate or lunch box.
When children are engaged in the preparation of food, the discussions around food can lead to important understanding of food and its relationship to our health, wellbeing and cultural ties. I often talk to my children about the wonderful food my Nonna used to prepare. We also discuss why certain foods are good for us.
TIME POOR FAMILIES: at a certain age, depending on individual maturity, children can support the family’s demands to be fed. There is no reason why a 12-year-old cannot make a bacon and egg toasted sandwich for breakfast or chili con carne for dinner. Children do require some supervision in the kitchen, it isn’t about letting them burn the house down. The benefits long term outweighs the negatives, by the time they are 14 you could depend on them to cook independently. So many families are so stressed for time that meal times have become nothing to savour and convenience outweighs nutritional value. A child who can cook a simple meal may also give the you a night where you don’t have to cook. If they can also learn to clean up, I would consider their efforts of more value than getting take away.
CHILDHOOD OBESITY: The World Health Organisation reported in 2013 that 42 million children in the world are obese. It is expected to rise to 70 million by 2025. With such alarming figures part of the solution by in teaching kids to cook? A national study found that up to 30 000 children in Australia are obese.
So how does teaching kids to cook solve the issue of childhood obesity? It teaches them to engage with food in a positive way, food is about nourishing not just comfort. The time spent preparing is time not spent snacking or sitting down. Cooking can encourage selection of quality foods and remove the “open a packet” solution to eating.
TIPS FOR GETTING KIDS IN THE KITCHEN:
Show your children magazines, cook books and recipe cards. Ask them what looks good and what they would like to help you cook.
Start simply, it is not about kids learning to make a croquembouche. Making a salad while you are cooking a steak is a good place to start.
Don’t be afraid of the kitchen. Many parents were shooed out of the kitchen as kids and this has carried on to their own parenting habits. Children need to know how to be kitchen safe, this includes using sharp knives.
Focus on nourishing foods not cupcakes. Most kids would be happy to make sweets; however, this does not solve any of the feeding issues a family may have.
Try not to be too fussy, the cucumbers do not need to be sliced in perfectly sized circles. Encourage the child to help cleaning up. This may not be done to your standard but it is an important part of the learning process.
Until they are of an age where they require less instruction try to encourage cooking on the weekends and school holiday. Teaching a child to make spaghetti bolognaise after a stressful day may not be a good time to start the process of learning to cook.
Many parents will claim that their kids won’t eat fish. This simple weekday meal might tempt them and they can certainly help prepare the simple ingredients. My children do not eat the guacamole which doesn’t worry me too much as they really enjoy the fish, vegetables and spicy chipotle sauce
500 grams of bream, Dory or other mild fish fillet
½ cup of tapioca or cornflour
2 tablespoons of chipotle spice mix or taco seasoning mix
1 packet of corn or flour tortillas
Guacamole made the way you like it
Lettuce, cucumber, capsicum, shallot, coriander, shredded carrot and sliced tomato for the filling.
Grated tasty cheese
Sour cream mixed with spicy chipotle sauce. I also use whole egg mayonnaise if I have no sour cream.
Mix flour and spice mix together and coat fish lightly with mixture. Shallow fry fish and drain on paper towelling. Heat tortillas in foil in the oven or in the microwave if you are in a hurry. Arrange the vegetables on a plate or board and cheese, sauce and guacamole in bowls.
Make the tacos as you go, hopefully the kids will fill them with the fish and vegetables and not just ask for cheese!