A study published in Public Health Nutrition found that learning to cook helps children eat healthier. Researchers from the University of Alberta who followed close to 4,000 fifth-graders found those who most frequently helped prepare and cook meals at home also had the highest consumption of fruits and vegetables. They also had a better ability to choose and eat healthy foods.
Other benefits of cooking with your children include giving them a real-life opportunity to use their math skills and a chance to mutually discuss the link between a healthy diet and a healthy body. Cooking with your children is also a perfect opportunity to pass on family and ethnic traditions and customs.
Although the mess and safety concerns that come to mind when you think about cooking with your children may give you pause, you can overcome these issues. Use the following tips and tricks to make the experience fun for you and your children.
1. Keep It Simple
Unless your son or daughter appears to be a budding Julia Child or Iron Chef, it’s best to keep the dishes you prepare together on the simple side at first. Let your child begin with easier jobs and work up to tasks and recipes that are more difficult or complex.
Simple kid-friendly recipes include salads; yogurt sundaes; mini pizzas; healthy nachos; and decorated whole wheat bread made with prepared bread dough, chopped dried fruit and nuts, and sunflower seeds.
2. Keep It Safe
Any time knives, hot ovens, and cooktops are involved, safety concerns need to be considered, explained, and enacted.
Some to enforce include:
• Always have kids wash their hands with soap and water before preparing food and after touching raw meat, poultry, and fish.
• Closely supervise knife use and demonstrate proper cutting techniques before letting children cut anything on their own. Teach children to cut away, not toward, their fingers.
• Children should always use pot holders when removing hot pots, pans, and baking dishes from the oven.
• Use one cutting board for meat and poultry and another one for fresh produce.
• Defrost frozen meat in the refrigerator, under cold running water, or in the microwave, not on the countertop.
3. Keep It Age Appropriate
The kitchen tasks your children can accomplish depend on their skill, experience, and ability to follow directions. Some tasks they may be able to perform at different grade levels include:
• Retrieve ingredients from the fridge or cupboards
• Stir batter
• Sprinkle grated cheese or carrots
• Break eggs
• Cut soft foods with a table knife or scissors
• Mash and knead
• Toss a salad
• Squeeze a lemon
• Tear lettuce leaves
• Use an apple peeler or egg separator
• Carefully cut vegetables
• Double or cut recipes in half
Depending on their previous experience, children in these grades are likely capable of performing most preparation and cooking tasks.
By Barbara Floria, senior writer for Vitality. For more information, visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics at www.eatright.org.
1 cup tomato sauce
1 cup grilled skinless chicken breast, cut into cubes
1 cup broccoli, rinsed, chopped, and cooked
2 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
1 tbsp. fresh basil, rinsed, dried, and chopped (or 1 tsp. dried)
4 (6½-inch) whole wheat pitas
Preheat oven or toaster oven to 450 degrees. For each pizza, spread ¼ cup tomato sauce on a pita and top with ¼ cup chicken, ¼ cup broccoli, ½ tablespoon Parmesan cheese, and ¼ tablespoon chopped basil. On a nonstick baking sheet, bake pizzas for about five to eight minutes until golden brown and chicken is heated through. Serves four.
PER SERVING: Calories–275, fat–5 g, saturated fat–1 g, cholesterol–32 mg, sodium–486 mg, carbohydrates–41 g, fiber–7 g, protein–20 g
Crispy Chicken Fingers with Dipping Sauce
½ tsp. reduced-sodium crab seasoning (or substitute ¼ tsp. paprika and ¼ tsp. garlic powder for a sodium-free alternative)
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
1 tbsp. whole wheat flour
12 oz. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 12 strips
2 tbsp. fat-free milk
1 egg white
3 cups cornflake cereal, crushed
¼ cup ketchup
¼ cup 100-percent orange juice
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp. honey
2 tsp. deli mustard
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. First, blend crab seasoning, pepper, and flour in a bowl. Then add chicken strips and toss well to coat evenly. In a separate bowl, combine milk and egg white and mix. Pour over seasoned chicken and coat well.
Place cornflakes in a ziplock bag. Use a rolling pin and roll it across the bag several times until the cornflakes are crushed. Dip each chicken strip into the cornflakes and coat well. Place strips on a nonstick baking sheet.
Bake chicken strips for 10 to 12 minutes. To make the sauce, combine all sauce ingredients into a bowl and mix well.
Serve three chicken strips with ¼ cup dipping sauce. Serves four.
PER SERVING: Calories–248, fat–2 g, saturated fat–1 g, cholesterol–47 mg, sodium–422 mg, carbohydrates–36 g, fiber–1 g, protein–20 g
Source: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute; National Institutes of Health