Do you remember the culinary moments of your childhood? Maybe you spent Sunday afternoons stirring up pots of noodle soup with Mom, or eating syrup-soaked pancakes at your grandparent’s kitchen table. Maybe it was the game that Dad played with your broccoli, making it far more appealing than it would otherwise have been. Regardless of who you were with or what you ate, these first moments with food are precious.Our early experiences with food lay the groundwork for the way that we will nourish both our bodies and souls. It can be difficult to help children make healthy eating choices, especially after they’ve had their first taste of cookie dough ice cream. One way to instill healthy eating choices is to involve children in the creation of meals. By developing hands-on habits, your little ones will learn to love the process surrounding mealtime, and develop a healthy relationship to both their bodies and the things that feed them.
Planning a Menu
One easy way to get kids excited about cooking is to invoke their vivid imagination. Encourage them to use their creativity by creating the week’s menu. Discuss their favorite foods, and what they might have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that week.This also means teaching them about diversity in cooking. Suggest that they plan meals filled with varying ingredients and colors. For example, how about adding some blueberries to those pancakes, or green peas to the pasta? What would they love to add to a grilled cheese sandwich, or what would make salmon more fun? You can even have theme nights, such as Superhero Dinner, Pirate Night, or a Princess Party. By giving your children a share of the responsibility, you allow them to develop ownership over their meal choices and help nurture a sense of accomplishment.
When I was young, there were few things I loved more than going to the farmers market. There were so many colors, flavors, and smells; it was the most amazing and sensual experience for my little five-year-old mind. Going to the market encourages kids to ask questions and learn about the origins of their food. It’s a good habit to instill early on, as many adults are disconnected from the journey of their foods. By finding out where the strawberries were grown, what pesticides are, and how the animals were raised, kids become a part of the entire agricultural process. They’ll understand that food is more about eating; it’s about making good choices that keep the Earth (as well as our bodies) happy and healthy.
Embrace DIY Culture
There's just something to be said about doing it yourself. Start a garden so the whole family can witness the process of food creation, from the first seeds to the final stalk. Teach them about seasons and life cycles. As you work in the garden, teach the kids about the various health benefits of each item, or the different ways that particular ingredient can be used. (For example, pumpkins are delicious in pies and muffins, but also provide lots of tasty vitamins!) The benefits of starting a garden are many: Your family will save money, the kids will take on more responsibility, and you’ll all have plenty of memories and great things to eat.But you don’t have to stop there! There are dozens of other ways to get DIY, including pickling your own products, baking bread, and making your own cheese. These methods are healthier and more financially feasible, giving you and your family weekend activities that reap dozens of benefits.
Become a Sous-Chef
Increasing involvement in the kitchen is key to building healthy eating habits. Kids are oftentimes more capable than we give them credit for. You can easily find a multitude of fun tasks to help them aid in the meal’s creation.Younger children, for example, can help in assembling the materials (getting out the butter, pasta, spoons, etc.), stirring and sifting, or fetching fresh herbs from the garden. Older children can aid in more complicated tasks, like making marinades, mashing potatoes, cracking eggs, scooping spaghetti squash, and blending smoothies. Witnessing the process not only helps a child take ownership over the meal, but it creates lasting memories that lead to a long-term healthy relationship with food.
Playing with Food
Even adults love eating with their hands from time to time! One great way to get kids to eat more vegetables is to cut them into fun-shaped objects, or to serve them with a dipping sauce. If your child is really stubborn and refuses to eat anything that resembles a plant, there are tasty products that find ways to sneak in a handful of veggies.
And as an adult, you can totally still use your imagination. Those aren’t broccoli stalks; those are trees! Maybe your kid is a hungry dinosaur, and needs to eat the entire forest. Turn cauliflower into pizza crust or rice. Build a sushi plate that sneaks in carrots and avocado, and have an “Under the Sea” night. Mealtime can be fun for the entire family.
Regardless of your methods, by approaching the kitchen and your child’s eating habits with a sense of play and attention, you’ll transform eating from an obligation into an activity. Watch as your kids develop healthy and mindful eating patterns, and savor the memories for years to come.
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