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Here are seven skills that your children can develop while helping in the kitchen:
- Explore their senses. Invite children, especially younger ones, to experience the activity of the kitchen. If you’re baking bread, for example, kids can listen to the whir of a mixer, pound dough and watch it rise, smell it baking in the oven and finally taste the warm bread fresh from the oven. If it smells good, looks appealing and is easy to eat, they may just be willing to try it! Seeing you enjoy the process of cooking healthy meals can help them see cooking as fun and not a chore. Processed foods are readily available and fast; watching you take the time to make a quick, healthy meal instead of something fast can help reinforce the behavior as they grow and start making food choices on their own.
- Expand their palate. If you have picky eaters, bringing them into the kitchen to help cook can help open them up to new foods and flavors. Introducing new foods to children may be more successful if you introduce only one new food at a time along with something that you know your child likes. Consider trying healthy recipes from different countries and cultures to not only expand the palate, but your child’s worldview.
- Working in the kitchen provides kids and teens opportunities to gain a sense of accomplishment. Even if the end result is not exactly what you expected, praise your kitchen helpers for their efforts.
- Making healthy choices. Planning a menu and grocery list is an opportunity to explain smart food choices. Talk to your child about different food groups and encourage him or her to try new foods. Kids who have a hand in making the vegetables may be a little more willing to try a sample when they sit down to the dinner table.
- Responsibility. From following a recipe and learning how to safely handle kitchen equipment to cleaning up spills and putting things away, helping in the kitchen provides ample opportunities for children and teens to learn responsibility.
- Sharing good conversation. Share with your child or teen family stories and recipes. Or ask thought-provoking questions about food choices, school, friends and other activities. Developing these conversations while preparing dinner teaches your child how to carry on a thoughtful conversation and can enhance your relationship.
- Basic math, science and language skills. As kids learn to crack eggs and stir sauce, they also gain new science, language and math skills. Basic math skills (“How many eggs do we need?”) and sequencing skills (“What is first … next … last?”) give way to fractions (“Is this ¾ of a cup?”) as your child gains confidence in the kitchen. Reading recipes helps improve reading comprehension, and you can demonstrate basic science principles with something as simple as salt sprinkled on an ice cube.
Cooking activities for preschoolers
A few tasks in the kitchen are particularly well-suited to kids ages 3 to 5. The key is to give them “jobs” they enjoy that meet their skill level. Don’t plan an elaborate project — five to 10 minutes might be all your child wants to spend on an activity. Start small and keep it fun.
Here are some other ways kids can help:
- Stirring pancake batter
- Tearing lettuce for salad
- Adding ingredients
- Assembling a pizza
- Helping you “read” a cookbook by turning the pages
American Heart Association Scientific Position On Recommendations for Healthy Children
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Start in Infancy:
- Breast-feeding is ideal nutrition and sufficient to support optimal growth and development for about the first 4–6 months after birth. Try to maintain breast-feeding for 12 months. Transition to other sources of nutrients should begin at about 4–6 months of age to ensure sufficient micronutrients in the diet.
- Delay introducing 100 percent juice until at least 6 months of age and limit to no more than 4–6 oz/day. Juice should only be fed from a cup.
- Don’t overfeed infants and young children — they can usually self-regulate the amount of calories they need each day. Children shouldn’t be forced to finish meals if they aren’t hungry as they often vary caloric intake from meal to meal.
- Introduce healthy foods and keep offering them if they’re initially refused. Don’t introduce foods without overall nutritional value simply to provide calories.
Eating patterns for families
- Energy (calories) should be adequate to support growth and development and to reach or maintain desirable body weight.
- Eat foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars.
- Keep total fat intake between 30 to 35 percent of calories for children 2 to 3 years of age and between 25 to 35 percent of calories for children and adolescents 4 to 18 years of age, with most fats coming from sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, such as fish, nuts and vegetable oils.
- Choose a variety of foods to get enough carbohydrates, protein and other nutrients.
- Eat only enough calories to maintain a healthy weight for your height and build. Kids should be physically active for at least 60 minutes a day.
- Serve whole-grain/high-fiber breads and cereals rather than refined grain products. Look for “whole grain” as the first ingredient on the food label and make at least half your grain servings whole grain. Recommended grain intake ranges from 2 oz./day for a one-year-old to 7 oz./day for a 14–18-year-old boy.
- Serve a variety of fruits and vegetables daily, while limiting juice intake. Each meal should contain at least 1 fruit or vegetable. Children’s recommended fruit intake ranges from 1 cup/day, between ages 1 and 3, to 2 cups for a 14–18-year-old boy. Recommended vegetable intake ranges from ¾ cup a day at age one to 3 cups for a 14–18-year-old boy.
- Introduce and regularly serve fish as an entrée. Avoid commercially fried fish.
- Serve fat-free and low-fat dairy foods. From ages 1–8, children need 2 cups of milk or its equivalent each day. Children ages 9–18 need 3 cups.
- Don’t overfeed. Don’t overfeed. Children shouldn’t be forced to finish meals if they aren’t hungry as they often vary caloric intake from meal to meal. Consult your health care professional for your child’s specific caloric needs.