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October 1, 2015

Cooking with Kids

Families who spend time together planning, shopping, and preparing their food are making two very good choices—they are passing on the skill of food preparation (including math, nutrition information and following directions), and they are forming a closer bond through time spent together in conversation and learning. Children are even more likely to eat what they’ve cooked or grown, so they become less picky eaters with a diversity of tastes.

Families who spend time together planning, shopping, and preparing their food are making two very good choices—they are passing on the skill of food preparation (including math, nutrition information and following directions), and they are forming a closer bond through time spent together in conversation and learning. Children are even more likely to eat what they’ve cooked or grown, so they become less picky eaters with a diversity of tastes.

According to Dr. Lachin Hajhosseini, MD, a family practitioner with ThedaCare Physicians-Appleton North inside Encircle Health, “Three good things happen when families eat together at the table. Better quality food is prepared, families are together and talking away from screens, and bodies are nourished. This all happens with the simple decision to make and eat food together.”

There are many benefits to cooking and eating together as a family beyond the obvious. “The American Heart Association reports that overweight children and teens get better control of their weight when there is structured time for family meals, and fewer meals are eaten outside the home,” said Dr. Hajhosseini. Children learn that food has the ability to improve one’s health, sidestepping the idea that somehow food is an enemy, which may lead to the development of eating disorders. “Young people who consciously think about food choices as opportunities to heal or energize their bodies gain control over what and how it is eaten,” she said. Furthermore, research shows that young people who eat together as a family are less likely to use drugs.

Young children often show a natural interest in measuring and mixing. This is a great time for parents to capture their attention and help build for them a strong foundation of healthy cooking and eating. Dr. Hajhosseini suggests a couple of ways to involve family members in food preparation. Most of these tips apply to children about six years or older, but kids as young as two can pitch in, too, by safely stirring ingredients or washing vegetables.

  • Choose a region, country or culture and learn about where it is on the map and what foods are grown and eaten there. Choose a specific recipe to try.
  • Go to the farmer’s market or grocery store to buy ingredients. Talk about how or why you choose certain ingredients (like how to choose the freshest vegetables). If you want to integrate math, set a budget and bring a calculator or pad and pencil to keep track of expenses.
  • Teach your children, if they are young readers, how to read nutrition labels, especially fat, sodium, fiber and protein amounts. Talk about which ingredients are good for you, and which ones need to be eaten only in moderation.
  • When you return home, take out all of the ingredients and measure them. Measuring cups teach fractions. Baking times require the ability to read a clock. All these steps are valuable life skills.
  • Review the recipe together and emphasizes the proper order of the steps.
  • Teach the importance of cleaning between steps of a recipe and washing hands between handling different ingredients.
  • Wear the uniform. A kid-sized apron is a lot of fun to wear and makes splotches on clothing less likely. Remember to tie back long hair, too.
  • Be patient and flexible. There may be spills or unusual recipe results, but these are all steps in the learning process.

“Be encouraging, even if it’s as simple as adding a topping to a pizza. You could even name the dish after the child who helped make it,” Dr. Hajhosseini said. “Kids can pitch in when they need food for a school group or large family celebration, and this builds a sense of responsibility and belonging. The simple act of making food is very powerful. We all need to eat every day, so start getting teaching your children when they are young,” she said.

Need help to find a doctor who can help you prepare a recipe for your overall wellness? Lachin Hajhosseini, MD, a family practitioner at ThedaCare Physicians-North Appleton inside Encircle Health, is accepting new patients. Contact her office at directly at (920) 738-4600. Or call ThedaCare On Call at (920) 830-6877 or go to www.thedacare.org and click on “Find a Doctor.”

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