10 Tips for Cooking Healthy Meals With Kids

boy cookingThere are so many benefits to involving your children in cooking family meals from the earliest of ages. They eat a wider variety of foods when they help prepare them; it's a fun bonding activity; and the older they get, they actually help with the process. Of course, getting to that point isn't always without spills or a few disasters, but that's part of the fun.

Cooking Light has developed a new cookbook, The Ultimate Kid-Approved Cookbook -- its first for kids -- that helps you navigate the process. In it are more than 100 recipes, from snacks to meals and desserts, that you and your children can prepare together. It also provides plenty of pictures and suggestions as to what tasks your children can perform.

I caught up with the book’s author, mom, and registered dietitian Carolyn Land Williams, M.Ed, RD., and she shared her top 10 guidelines for turning today’s children into tomorrow’s budding chefs


1. Be a Teacher. Everyday tasks that may seem routine to parents can be great learning opportunities for kids. Encourage healthy lifestyle habits by using the grocery store as a classroom to count foods, identify colors, and practice reading skills. Take a field trip to the local farmers’ market or dairy farm so kids can learn where foods come from.

2. Focus on the Three B's. Involving your kids in the cooking process lets you Bond with your child(ren), Build their self-confidence, and Broaden their food base. You get to work together as a team, help them develop their fine motor skills, and teach them about the importance of nutrition.

3. Cleanliness First. Always wash your hands before starting to cook and after touching raw meat, poultry, or seafood. It’s important to teach children not to mix raw and cooked foods. In fact, one easy way to do this is to have different colored cutting boards for various foods -- such as red for meats and green for fruits and vegetables.

4. Kids Need Space Too. Creating a small, safe workplace in the kitchen for your child gives them a sense of ownership while cooking. Make sure to set kitchen rules, and communicate those clearly, so kids are aware of their boundaries. Read each recipe together before beginning, and chop or measure your ingredients as needed before starting.

5. Never Assume. Kids don’t necessarily know that an object or utensil may be hot or sharp, so make sure to tell them and to set rules about how to use (or not use) each object. Explain as you go, demonstrate, and then let them try.

6. Prevent Mishaps. While it can be very tempting, don’t sample food until it’s done. It can be unsafe for little ones to taste-test certain raw foods. Also, clean up spills as they happen (and they will!), and keep sharp or dangerous items out of reach, such as knives, scissors, and food processors. 

7. Be the "Lifeguard" of the Kitchen. Always supervise children in the kitchen. It’s never a good idea to leave younger kids alone. For older children, identify what is and isn’t OK to do when you’re not in the kitchen.

8. Follow the Leader. The best way to teach children healthy eating and safe cooking habits is to practice what you preach. Even though you may not think your kids are paying attention, they watch everything you do and will eventually adopt the behaviors they see. By eating healthy and being active, you’re sending a powerful message to your children.

9. Explore New Foods. The more foods you introduce to children, the greater the variety of foods they’re likely to eat as adults. Preparing ethnic dishes offers a great opportunity to try new foods, flavors, and spices, as well as to learn about a new culture. Consider having a theme night, complete with music from that culture. Older kids can research that part of the world and share fun facts at dinner.  

10. Break Out of the (Lunch) Box. With school right around the corner, it can be tough to think of fresh new meal ideas outside of the classic PB&J. Involve your kids in the meal planning and preparation, which will increase the likelihood that they’ll eat the healthier lunch that’s been prepared and actually enjoy it. 

The cookbook launched last week, but they sent me an early copy, and my children and I have had lots of fun making some of the recipes this summer. I highly recommend the Ooey-Gooey Peanut Butter Chocolate Brownies.

Do you cook with your children? Any tips to add to the list?

Image via Julie Ryan Evans

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