Why kids should help with the cooking

Baystateparent Magazine
When kids pitch in to help make a meal, they more likely to eat the food being prepared.

What parent doesn’t want a little extra time and for their family to be healthier? The Kids Cook Mondays initiative aims to give you both.

When kids pitch in to help make a meal, not only are they more likely to eat the food being prepared, they are freeing up a parent’s time in the kitchen, said Erin Comollo, program development administrator with the Healthy Kids Initiative in the Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health at Rutgers University.

Spending time working together in the kitchen allows parents to be good role models while encouraging children’s confidence, independence, self-esteem and pride, Comollo said.

As a child gains skills and has the opportunity to experience new things he or she is contributing to the functioning of the household. Being able to contribute makes him or her feel more confident, said Peggy Policastro, nutritionist with the Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health at Rutgers University.

Helping chop, pour and mix not only increases a child’s motor skills, it boosts nutritional culinary skills, Policastro said.

Teaching children simple, everyday skills such as washing fruit and peeling vegetables translates to healthy eating habits in later life when they will be cooking for themselves and their families, Comollo said.

Working side by side in the kitchen is a great time to check in with children’s lives and see what’s going on with their day. It presents a great opportunity to boost social, emotional, organizational and problem-solving skills, Comollo said. Kids have to cooperate, plan, coordinate, execute orders, use sequencing, weigh, measure and more, she said.

TheKidsCookMonday.org is filled with family-friendly recipes and video demonstrations. Here are some tips from Comollo and Policastro:

• Use age-appropriate tools and utensils.

• Let preschool-age children cut soft foods like strawberries with a child-safety knife or tear lettuce with their hands.

• Practice food safety.

• Show little ones how to wash their hands so they can also wash fruits and vegetables.

• Refine skills as they age.

• While a preschooler can add a pinch of salt to a recipe, a second-grader can measure an ⅛ of a teaspoon.

• Role model and give explicit directions. Don’t just say “cut the tomatoes,” direct a child to cut the tomato in half.

• Don’t be overwhelmed. It’s worth it to cook together. For example, buy a cooked rotisserie chicken, have children shred the meat with their hands and help cut vegetables for a stir fry.