Building the Foundation of Healthy Eating by Cooking with your Kids

Are you tired of having constant battles with your kids over getting them to eat healthy food?

We’ve all been there…having a stand-off with your child at the dinner table because they won’t eat their broccoli, or they’ve decided that the only colour they will eat is orange (and preferably in the shape of a dinosaur), and don’t even get me started on what happens when the foods touch each other! This often leads to their brothers or sisters joining in – “if they’re not eating their broccoli, why do I have to? “It’s not fair!”.

The battle rages on….

As mums, we all want our kids to be healthy and sometimes these battles can become all too hard. We ‘give in’ and let them eat a bowl of cereal for dinner because at least they will have a full belly and stop yelling. But what if getting your kids to eat healthy, real food wasn’t such a battle? What if they actually CHOSE to eat it themselves, without the screaming, without the tears….so that you all get to enjoy dinner time together?

“It’ll never happen!” I can hear you thinking, “My kids won’t eat broccoli or bananas. They’ll only eat out of a packet!”

But we can’t give up there. Kids grow up into adults and in a world of processed foods and with rising rates of obesity and disease, we have to educate them to choose real food, to be able to prepare a tasty and healthy meal, to inspire good habits and pass on our knowledge to them and to be able to make wise choices when we’re not around.

So how do you get your kids to stop saying no, and to start eating Real Food?

Give Them the Gift of Your Time

Your kids really just want to spend time with you – that goes from toddlers to teenagers (it’s true, they do). Spending one-on-one time with mum, when you’re not rushing from one thing to the next is a great way to connect and to strengthen the relationship you have with your children.

They won’t remember how much you spent on their new X-Box or how tidy the house was, but they will remember you taking the time to spend just with them.

The kitchen is a great place for this one-on-one time. Kids open up more when the conversation is relaxed and they don’t feel like they’re being interrogated. Many kids who have mastered the art of one word grunts for communication will open up about school, friendships and problems they may be having, if you set up the right environment. Getting kids into the kitchen will create lasting memories – ones that they will carry forward as they grow up and start their own family.

Stop Lecturing and Start Inspiring

Kids don’t want to be lectured about what they eat, but they are more likely to eat new types of food when they have had a hand in preparing in it. This is because kids love to learn – and they really love to do this by being hands on and experimenting. If the food they are eating is a result of their own creativity – they are far more likely to try it, and tell themselves they like it.

This doesn’t mean handing them a 20 step recipe and asking them to call you when they have finished creating armageddon in the kitchen. Simple, guided hands on experiences (just peeling a carrot for example) will get them to be more comfortable with idea of touching and tasting new foods. Getting them involved in making meals is also a great way to sneak in some education. You can open up the conversation about the differences between Real Food and processed foods and which is better for their bodies. Make sure you use language they understand. For example – avocados are good for “brain power”, berries help to fight off “bugs” to stop us getting sick, and green leafy vegetables help keep our bones strong “so we can play”.

You also need to lead by example – there is no point asking your kids to eat Real Food when you don’t. Be honest with your kids and discuss your own food experiences – “I never used to like broccoli either, until I tried it this way (smothered in butter with pepper salt – yum), now I love it!”.

When connecting with your kids in this way, it becomes a fun activity to do together instead of a lecture about healthy food. For example, my son wanted to make his own smoothie, so we spent the time in the kitchen looking at ingredients, choosing out what he wanted, then adding them all into the blender. He measured out the ingredients, took a few taste tests to make sure it was just right. Then he wrote down his recipe because he wanted to make it again to share with his Dad and sisters. It was a huge confidence boost, and a way to get him to try a food he doesn’t usually like (bananas) by using them in a different way.

Create Family Traditions

Getting your kids into the kitchen not only avoids fights about trying new food, it also also allows you to create lasting memories and family traditions that can be carried into the future. One of our family traditions is that birthdays are called “YES” days. The kids get to choose what they want to have for their special birthday dinner and to anything else they ask for (within reason) we have to say yes! It’s fun, and a great way to get their siblings involved in the birthday celebrations by getting them into the kitchen to prepare the special meal with me.

We have also been able to connect the generations by cooking recipes my Grandmother made – though my scones have never been as good as my Nan’s, I’ll keep trying! The kids have loved this so much, that my mum put together a file for me with photos of us growing up and her favourite recipes. The kids love to cook recipes out of this to present to Nana when she comes over.

You really can’t build these kinds of traditions and relationships around packaged foods. “Remember how we used to unwrap our hamburgers the same way” doesn’t have the same ring to it as “This is the cake mum and I make together every Christmas”.

So, when we connect with our kids and teach them how to prepare their own food, we are both empowering them to make healthy food choices and building memories and traditions that cater for both their physical and emotional health.

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