Studies indicate that picky eating ranges from 14 to 50 percent in preschool children, and from 7 to 27 percent in older children. For parents who are looking to encourage healthier eating, cooking together can bring a variety of benefits to the table. From the lessons that can be learned to how you can transform classic guilty pleasures like a pizza into nutritious recipes, here are just a few tips to help inspire your little ones to try healthier foods.
Lessons from the kitchen
For parents who are homeschooling their children, cooking together can offer a variety of lessons worth learning. According to the National Head Start Association (NHSA), cooking together helps children to be creative, creates mindfulness, gives your children confidence, and helps a child’s development. It’s also noted that cooking helps children to appreciate healthy food. Cooking together can also teach your children additional skills, aside from learning how to make a healthy snack or meal. For instance, math lessons can easily be taught in the kitchen when it comes to concepts like adding, measuring, and fractions, while sequencing can be taught by following recipes. Older children and teens can gain real-world experience by helping shop for food, which can teach valuable life skills like budgeting. In turn, you’ll be able to spend quality time with your child as they learn hands-on skills that are sure to last a lifetime.
A healthy twist on the classics
Mac and cheese, pizza, and french fries all make for an enticing meal, and can oftentimes serve as the go-to options for many picky eaters. However, introducing your child to a variety of food — including healthy choices like fresh vegetables, fruits, etc. while they’re forming their preferred tastes and habits may keep them from becoming picky eaters later in life, according to Ysabel Montemayor, the lead-registered dietician at Fresh n’ Lean. The Rasmussen University article further goes on to suggest pairing a new food with something that your child enjoys if they’re reluctant to try it or don’t really like the taste at first, like pairing carrot sticks with their favorite dipping sauce. With that in mind, cooking a classic favorite together — and putting a healthy twist on the recipe — may just uncover a new favorite.
Pizza is just one easy food that can be transformed into a healthy meal, as it has the benefit of being fully customizable. From cauliflower crust to pesto sauce and a variety of veggies for toppings, having your child choose one or multiple nutritious alternatives can help introduce them to healthier choices. Cooking the pizza also allows for versatility in regard to taste — while baking the pie is typical, making pizza night more spontaneous can be achieved by opting for alternative cooking methods, such as smoking the pizza. With just a few key tools (pizza stone, peel, and of course, a smoker), you can easily create a meal that is sure to intrigue your whole family. After having your children help you to assemble a nutritious pie, transfer it onto a parchment-covered stone and allow it to cook for 20 minutes inside the smoker (a brown crust and bubbling cheese will let you know it’s ready). The result? A flavorful, smoky pizza. With a variety of variations to choose from, you’re sure to find the perfect recipe that the whole family will love.
From positivity to creativity
As a parent, it can be easy to get stressed out or overwhelmed when cooking together as a family, especially if inviting your children into the kitchen to help is new. According to one Harvard Health Blog post by author Claire McCarthy, MD, simply being positive can be a great way to address picky eating. “The more that you are upbeat and positive about eating, the more likely your child will be that way too,” states the post. One way to make cooking together a more positive and enjoyable experience is to add in a dash of creativity.
Aside from simply putting a healthy spin on a classic favorite, trying new sandwich combinations, or allowing your kid to play with their food (i.e. allowing them to make smiley face pancakes, a “volcano” out of mashed potatoes and gravy, etc.) can further help make healthy choices more entertaining. Making the process of cooking in the kitchen more fun can also be achieved by playing their favorite music while cooking, or by making the food itself more kid-friendly — for instance, one Parents.com article suggests referring to broccoli as ‘baby trees,’ trying out mini foods (sliders, for example), or even cutting foods into fun shapes to make it more appealing.
Children who have access to child-size kitchen tools have more chances of getting excited about making their own meals and snacks. When parents set children up for success in the kitchen by preparing a safe and organized space for them to mix, stir, pour, spread, and cut all kinds of foods, they create a culture of independence and trust in the family. It results in children being excited to try healthy options because they have a personal attachment to foods by preparing them with tools that are age-appropriate alongside people they love and admire.
Getting your children to eat healthier can seem like a stressful challenge — especially if they’re hooked on less-than-healthy favorites. By cooking together and putting a healthy spin on old favorites (as well as inspiring your kids through positivity and creative ideas), you can get your kids actively involved and inspire them to make healthy choices along the way.
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