How do dietitians teach their kids about cooking? How do nutrition experts do this without pulling their hair out? One of my goals as a mom is to teach my kids how to cook a few simple recipes that include a variety of ingredients before they graduate from high school. While my kids have always been around me in the kitchen, mixing and measuring, now that they are in middle school, I’m starting to think more about the specific skills I want them to have so they can create a meal. I asked my dietitian friends to share their best tips to not only help me but also help all of you! Whether you are starting at 18 months old or 18 years old, there are some great ideas shared here!
Robin Plotkin, RDN, Culinary Nutritionist and Registered Dietitian of www.robinsbite.com shares what it’s not going to be:
It’s not going to be a Norman Rockwell experience. It IS going to be messy, and everything associated with it will take 10X longer than anticipated. You’ll hear yourself saying “don’t touch that” and “listen to me” a million times and it’s highly likely that very last nerve will be exposed and frazzled until there is nothing left. To add insult to injury, there’s a good chance that the food they make may not be edible. Accept it. It’s not about the outcome, it’s about the journey.
And she gives great ideas on how to actually get the kids in the kitchen:
Allow your children to participate in the cooking process by giving them age appropriate duties in the kitchen. If your kid is old enough to sit up, bring them into the kitchen and give them an empty pot and a spoon to bang. Start their exposure to the sights, sounds and smells of cooking as soon as possible! Now, we’re not taking about mastering fish en papillote or grinding their own spices in a spice specific coffee grinder at age 5. Depending on their age, we’re talking about rinsing produce in the colander, “looking” at cookbooks, stirring, scooping, squeezing and setting the table. As they grow older, give them more to do.
When I was a child, it was my job to make the salads for each member of our family of 6. This included washing, chopping, and remember what each person liked in their salad! I also had a job each night to set the table, put away the condiments or leftovers, clear the dishes or do the dishes. With 4 kids, it was a pretty fair rotation.
Chere Bork, RDN, Registered Dietitian and Energy Igniter, of www.cherebork.com shares why her adult children now cook for her!
Every other Wednesday, each child had to cook dinner. I gave them a quarter sheet of paper with fill-in-the-blanks for meat, starch, veggie, fruit and we always drank milk. Every Sunday, they had to turn in their menu to me so I could grocery shop. It was absolutely like pulling teeth as my children did not care about Sunday night let alone three days later, they were living in the moment! But it paid off, both my kids cook for me and they cook really healthy meals. I also took pictures of them cooking and created a little menu book too!
Suzanne Farrell, MS, RD of www.cherrycreeknutrition.com has two daughters she cooks with regularly. The secret?
I have found a really effective and fun way to get my kids interested in cooking. Have them look through kid-friendly cookbooks and scroll through our favorite recipe app “Meal Makeover Moms”. My girls do this regularly to pick out recipes they would like to try for our next meal.
Naomi May, RD, of www.yournutritionroots.com, shares that while her own 9-month old isn’t helping yet in the kitchen, she does give him measuring cups to play with! For kids who are a bit older, like her nieces and nephews, she shares this:
I let them measure ingredients and pour into dishes, mix and turn on small appliances like blenders. If you catch them watching you in the kitchen, invite them to help. If you are making a meal with them, give them choices between making the carrots as the vegetable or cookies as the dessert. Ask them if they would like to put nuts or dried fruit in the cookies. Giving them choices makes them feel like they are contributing and lets them put their own personal twist on the recipe!
Niki Strealy, RDN, of Strategic Nutrition and www.diarrheadietitian.com, operates under the if you teach someone else philosophy, you solidify your own knowledge. She shares:
My eight-year-old daughter made cookies by herself for the first time because her older brothers taught her how. I taught my boys initially and she learned from them. Teaching someone else solidifies your own knowledge and I knew if her brothers taught her, it would boost their own confidence too! I always start by teaching my kids something they are excited to make on their own, like baking cookies. Then I start asking them to help with meal prep, like browning ground beef or slicing vegetables. Pretty soon they have an arsenal of skills and can prep a meal by themselves!
Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, of www.AmyGorinNutrition.com and current blogger at The Eat List on www.weightwatchers.com/TheEatList, and former editor of Parents and American Baby Magazines shares her thoughts on this favorite topic:
Let your kids experiment in the kitchen. I grew up cooking and baking. I helped my mom out, but she also gave me the freedom to combine ingredients and figure out what tasted good together (and what didn’t). My first couple dozen creations didn’t taste good but I eventually developed a sense of what did and didn’t work. Giving this freedom was so helpful in creating a sense of creativity in the kitchen.
And invest in some kid-size cooking tools. It’s much easier when spatulas and rolling pins are child-size. Curious Chef, curiouschef.com, has a nice line of these.
Jillian O’Neil, Registered Dietitian in NYC, www.instagram.com/jillianmoneil, shares this:
My special tip is this: Incorporating kids in the food process at any age is essential. Everyone can fit in the kitchen where little ones can mix and measure, and older kids can hold a bit more responsibility like chopping with a knife. We watch videos together to demonstrate proper techniques. And lastly, everyone is designated an “official taste tester” as that’s the most important job in the kitchen!
Gloria Bartelt, MPH, RD, LDN of Encourage Nutrition, shares this insight:
I have 4 children and they are all in college or recently graduated. All our children are interested in eating well and cooking yet I never had a particular plan to reach that goal. What I think prompted them was my dedication to cooking healthful and delicious food. We also explored our traditional foods from our culture (I am Ukrainian) and foods of other cultures. Yes there was some resistance when they were young to eating certain of my selections but as they got older they were proudly bringing friends home so their friends could also experience new foods. It was only a natural progression that they wanted to learn how to cook healthful recipes that they grew up with when on their own.
Lara McNeil, MS, RDN, CDN, of www.eastendnutrition.com, shares this:
I teach cooking with kids activities at our local farmer’s market. The goal is always to get the kids to try new vegetables, as they are assisting in the preparation this almost always is successful. The recipes that have been especially successful are the ones that use tools of some kind. For example, we have made vegetable raviolis with egg roll wrappers, the kids use small scoops to put the fillings in and then roller cutters to cut the 4 raviolis from their 2 sheets. Another one is vegetable dumplings – I have several plastic dumpling folders that they use for this. Also sushi rolls that they get to put the rice, veggies, and roll the mats. Summer rolls are a big favorite because they are amazed at how the wrappers soften. Over the years the same kids come back and they are willing to try more and more different vegetables – they just need to be exposed to the preparation. Pictures can be found at: https://www.facebook.com/GreenportFarmersMarket/photos_stream
So many great ideas from these nutrition experts! I’m thankful to each of them for being willing to share. Now I want to know which one inspired you? Or maybe you want to share what’s working for you right now in your kitchen? Let’s begin the conversation in the comments!