By Kaelan O’Fallon
How often do you involve your children in preparing meals? Maybe you feel it would take too long or be too messy, or perhaps it never crossed your mind at all. But of you need a healthy boost for your kids, cooking with them just might be the best thing you can do. Read on to see why, how, and the benefits that go beyond nutrition.
Children who cook become children who eat. Involving kids in preparing a meal makes them much more likely to eat that meal. If they put some work into the process, they are more inclined to try the final product.
Psychologists refer to something known as the illusion of choice. Making someone feel that an action was their choice makes them more satisfied with doing it. Involving kids in cooking by asking questions such as “should we put in one cup of broccoli or two?” or “should we add carrots or asparagus?” not only makes them feel valued, but will make them feel that the final dish was their decision, lessening the odds of protest.
Experts agree that cooking at home is one of the single healthiest things you can do. Fresh, home-prepared foods are better for you than pre-packaged, artificial snacks. Cooking with kids teaches them to utilize these healthier ingredients, rather than reach for something from a package.
Nudging your kids in the kitchen can be both verbal and functional.
Something verbal could be using “the illusion of choice,” as discussed above. Also, give your children specific, age appropriate tasks. If kids are unsure of what to do or feel they cannot do it, they will be discouraged from helping in the kitchen. Little kids may be more suited to washing fruit or kneading dough, while older kids can handle knives and appliances. Give them direction. And remember, they will make mistakes. Go easy on them.
Functionally, how you set up your kitchen is a nudge in itself. Make sure the space is primed for little helpers. Add step stools and smaller tools so kids are ready to help out. For older kids, play their favorite music and make enough room for them. Create a space where your kids want to be, and they will be more likely to stay without grumbling. Make it a task to be enjoyed!
Cooking with your kids has a host of benefits to their nutrition, but it has many other benefits as well:
- Creating a meal gives kids a sense of accomplishment and boosts self-confidence.
- Experimenting with ingredients nourishes creativity.
- Cooking can improve overall mental well-being. “If the activity is defined as personally rewarding or giving a sense of accomplishment or pleasure, or even seeing the pleasure of that pumpkin bread with chocolate chips making someone else happy, then it could improve a sense of well-being,” says Jacqueline Gollan, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University.
- Similarly, cooking can help relax the mind and relieve stress and depression. Many mental health professionals are beginning to use cooking as a therapeutic tool.
- Finally, cooking is a life skill! Your kids will always need to eat. Instilling them with that skill now will help them greatly later in life.
Now, let’s get cooking!