Raising Healthy Eaters- Involving Children in Choosing and Cooking Food

It’s hard to get around in my kitchen these days. It’s not really that it’s too small, or poorly designed, or anything like that. It’s mostly just because these days, my kitchen has a new, rather permanent, addition:

kitchen chair

Image by qmonic

Some days both of the chairs from my daughter’s little table set join us in the kitchen, and sometimes she drags in one of the big ones like this from the dining room instead. Whatever the chair (or chairs) du jour, if I am in there cooking, baking or cleaning, you are bound to find her right up there beside me, begging to be given a job!

If you’ve missed out on the last two weeks, we’ve been discussing getting picky toddlers to eat, and had a really good discussion last week on some important topics such as forcing children to eat, dinnertime discipline issues, strong food aversions, and more. This week I want to pick up on a topic I’ve mentioned before and that was brought up in last week’s discussion.

One of the absolute best ways that we can foster an understanding of nutrition and a desire to eat healthily in our children is to involve them in every step of the process!

There is something about being an integral part of buying, cooking (and even growing!) food that encourages children to eat it more willingly. It creates more of a sense of ownership- my daughter loves to tell my husband about the soup we made or the muffins we baked for him. I think that the more we invite our children into the process with us, rather than allowing them to remain as passive participants at mealtimes, the more we can foster a sincere interest in nutrition and a love for the wholesome foods that God created for them to eat.

When you go to the grocery store, bring them with you (as much as possible- I understand the desire for the odd trip to the store, all alone, by your very lonesome self!). Grocery shopping provides such an incredible venue for teaching opportunities and to give your kids choices in the food that they will be eating.

As we walk around the perimeter of the store (we’re not much of an “aisle shopping” family, as most whole foods are located around the perimeter), we discuss what we are buying and why. Sometimes my daughter will point out a food that looks interesting to her. If it happens to be a packaged item, I’ll read the ingredients and let her know why or why not we should buy it. If it is a fruit or vegetable she’s not familiar with, I’ll tell her what it is and why it’s healthy for us.

Once, she discovered eggplant at our produce market. Neither my husband or I are big eggplant eaters, but she was just enthralled by this beautiful purple vegetable! Not wanting to discourage her, I asked her what she wanted to do with it, and she suggested that we buy one and try it at home. And so, we did! (I’ll admit, it sat there for over a week before I finally found a recipe to use it in, and when the time came, we prepared the pasta/eggplant dish together and she was excited to try it- she didn’t love it,  but that’s ok, at least she tried it!).

Probably the most important way that I involve her is in the food preparation process. In the kitchen, I let her help me as much as possible. There are so many simple ways that children can help!

  • ripping lettuce for a salad
  • dumping measuring cups of flour in a bowl (we use baking for math lessons- addition, counting, and soon for fractions!)
  • beating eggs with a fork
  • shaking a jar of homemade salad dressing
  • pouring batter into muffin tins
  • adding veggies to a bowl after I cut them
  • stirring (baking, soups, etc.)
  • getting items for me from the fridge and putting them away again
  • being my official “taste tester”
  • and I’m sure you can think of many more!

As we cook, we so often talk about the foods that we’re preparing, why they’re healthy, how they taste, how God made them, where they come from (from cows, from farmers who grow them, from a tropical place in the world, from the sea, etc). She is learning so much about her world, developing more of an interest in the foods that we eat (because she helped to prepare them!) and is being trained to be a homemaker one day (just so you know, I intend to train my sons to help in the kitchen as well). We have beautiful bonding time, simply because I allow her to be with me, and I accept the slower pace of cooking with a child in exchange for these very worthwhile benefits.

I’ll admit, I have days when I just want to cook by myself, to do things quickly,
to make bread without flour ending up all over the floor. I’m impatient, I’m human and I’m sinful. I allow myself to be annoyed by sweeping the floor for the 5th time that day and the drips of egg white that didn’t quite make it into the bowl and the cinnamon that was dumped on top of my spicy bean dish.

Sometimes I’m tempted to choose convenience and cleanliness over the privilege of teaching and training my daughter in nutrition and food preparation skills.

I have days when I bump into ones of those little brown chairs repeatedly or have to move it from place to place in order to open my cupboards as I try to put dishes away. I’m tempted to kick it out of the kitchen, back into the family room where it “belongs”.
But you know, the longer I spend time in the kitchen with my favorite little girl, cooking and baking and experimenting and making messes, the more I realize that where that chair really belongs is right there in the kitchen. Right beside me.

What are some of the ways that you involve your children in shopping, cooking or anything else? What tasks do you give them? Do you find this increases their willingness to eat a wide variety of foods?

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  1. I am so enjoying this series. It is very timely, as my 10m old daughter decided last week that she does not want to eat without great coaxing any of the foods that she has previously eaten with great joy. It has become very stressful for me, and I’m trying not to create a negative feeding experience for her. She is working on getting a tooth on the top, so I’m sure that’s contributing to it. I would welcome any suggestions from any of your readers!

    I am so looking forward to what you have described! What precious moments!

  2. Great post! Thanks for reminding me and everyone else about waht’s really important! I can’t wait for our child to be born and able to help out in the kitchen!

  3. I love this post – I cook with my daughter who is almost four almost every day. I too can get frustrated, but then I stop myself and remember how much she enjoys our time together and that in a few short years she’ll be off on her own and I’ll be missing our special times in the kitchen.

  4. Excellent blog! We don’t yet have children, but we have always been a couple that will not, under and circumstance, by packaged food. Not only because of the additives and whatnot, but the joy and taste of cooking things yourself is so much better, and usually cheaper! I like your ideas on bringing the kids with you and explaining why you buy what you do. Whenever we do have children we will probably do the same because I would like our children to enjoy good, healthy, and homemade foods from a variety of cultures.

    Great blog!

  5. I love this post. I have already been thinking of ways to get my daughter to cook with me but most of the time I’m just trying to get the cooking done and it does take so much longer when they help you. But I know it is worth it =) BTW I’ve heard that it is better to have the back of the chair up next to the cabinet so that it won’t tip over as easily.

  6. I just LOVED this post! It was so inspiring to me 🙂 I am trying to involve my girls more in cooking and kitchen work. They both WANT to, so I want to take better advantage of it…

  7. My 3 year old has a plastic knife, from a picnic set, that she uses to chop up soft things (courgettes are perfect). We do end up with some interesting shapes but she loves it.
    I did check the knife out on me first to check that she could cut herself with it.

  8. My 14mo loves to watch me in the kitchen and play with “his” pots and pans on the floor while I work on the counter or stove. I let him taste & smell things (such as whatever veggie I’ve just chopped) and the other day I took him on a “sniffy tour” of the spice rack (he has just learned how to “sniff” and “blow”). He loved it!

  9. Thank you for this post. I have a five year old little girl that loves to help in the kitchen. Sometimes I just get so frustrated when we work together. It is slower and messier for sure. And with a 2yo boy and 7mo girl, I just don’t have a lot of extra time for cooking or baking. I am glad you have reminded me that the process is more important than the outcome.

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