The first time I asked my 20 month old if she wanted to cook dinner with mom, her face lit up like a Christmas tree. We collected her little table from the play room, brought it into our kitchen and set up shop. Until this point I had usually just given her an empty bowl and wooden spoon, a stalk of celery or a few pots and pans to play with on the floor as I prepared the meal. But this time, our aprons tied, our hands washed, we began to cook together.
We raided the fridge and pantry, choosing our fair. Her excitement helped squash any fears I had of the impending mess and we began to chop, mash, mix and sprinkle to our hearts content. She helped me rinse the produce, peel and cut the veggies (using a butter knife of course) and watched with bated breath as we placed our masterpiece in the oven. Everything about the experience was new and exciting for her. New sensations; things to touch, taste and smell. I began to see food through her eyes, the silly fronds atop the fennel, the graceful peel that came off of the carrots, slimy seeds lurking inside the butternut squash.
As a nutritionist prior to being a parent, I counseled numerous clients on what to feed their children to help support optimal health. I never realised, until I began the journey of raising a child myself, the immense importance of the how. Children need to experience the process of gathering and preparing their food, first hand. Just presenting them with a plate of healthy food, lovingly prepared isn’t necessarily enough.
In my profession, I am often faced with the frustrating task of motivating older children and teens to forgo packaged foods, fast food and frozen dinners and instead embrace whole foods. They are under the unfortunate misconception that ‘real’ foods come from boxes, bags and jars. That anything found in or on the ground is gross. Getting a 13 year old to try kale for the first time can be a near impossible task.
The sooner we introduce our children to real foods and do away with the perilous notion that ‘kid foods’ (aka micronutrient-poor, processed convenience foods) are okay while they are young, the better. Yes, it is (VERY) messy. Yes, it takes about 4 times the amount of time it would take you on your own. And, newsflash, it will decidedly not come out looking like the cover of Gourmet magazine. But in the process of creating and preparing a meal together, something magical happens: They get excited about eating their veggies!
By cooking with them, instead of for them, children learn how to nourish their bodies the way mother nature intended with real, whole foods. What’s the expression? Give a man a fish, he eats for a day, but teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.
Article written by Tenley Mirza, MS CNS LDN