Three simple ways to help children build a healthy relationship with food
One of my very favourite things to do with my little girl is to get our aprons on and get in the kitchen for some cooking or baking.
We do this every so often, I'm aiming for at least once a week, and have done since she was about two. My hope is that she will remember these moments as something lovely we used to do together, and something she will want to keep doing with her mum for years and years to come.
But much as our cooking adventures are as about quality time, they are also, in my opinion, about something far more important. Teaching children about healthy food choices, how to shop for food, and to enjoy the process of cooking and preparing it is so important for many reasons, from their future relationship with food to their long-term health and wellbeing.
1. Shopping for ingredients
I vividly remember being allowed to help my mum shop for groceries when I was little, pushing the little cart and helping find the items on the shopping list and putting them in the trolley.
This, I think, was not only a great way of learning what different foods and ingredients were called, but also, to me, felt like I was allowed to help out with the "grown-up" job of food shopping. And it must have made an impact seeing as it still sticks in my mind, all these years later.
Now, as a mama myself, our favourite thing to do on a Sunday is to hit our local farmer's market. Both for the deliciously fresh and local produce, but also because it always genuinely is a lovely family day out (and a lot less stressful than trying to haul them around Tesco!)
Before we go, we always have a little chat about what we are going to be cooking or making this week, and what we need to buy. My seven-year-old always eagerly counts out what we already have in the fridge and pantry, so that we don't buy double of anything and risk something being spoiled (a great way to sneak in a little lesson on meal planning!).
Once we get there, both children get little jobs, like counting out how many eggs we need to buy, looking for the freshest looking salads, picking the yellowest lemons (trust me, there are so many ways you can make vegetable shopping both fun and educational). Vendors sometimes let us have a little taste of whatever it is they are selling, and I love the children being allowed to taste new flavours and learn about foods they might not have tasted before.
If you don't have a farmer's market nearby, use your local supermarket (just try and go at a time when it is less busy). Take your time and let the kids help look for what is on the shopping list, pick stuff off the shelves and wheel the trolley around.
2. Chop, measure, pour and stir
My little boy is three, and much as his skill (and attention span) in the kitchen is still very much limited, he loves to be allowed to measure out things (with a little help) and pour them into the bowl and dish.
As well as getting him involved in the actual food preparation (and hopefully instilling in him a future love for cooking), it is also brilliant for things like fine-motor coordination and counting ("one, two, three teaspoons!").
His older sister I often now entrust with helping prepare ingredients, like getting things from the fridge or pantry, wash the salad, scrub potatoes or chop softer things like olives, strawberries and tomato. We are also practising our crack-an-egg skills every time we bake, and few things are more fun than stirring the pot or bowl once something goes in.
3. Make it FUN
When it comes to making sure my kids grow up with a love for good food and cooking, I think the most important thing I can do for them now, at this stage, is to make it fun and interesting. And the good news is that this isn't hard at all – food really is fun.
Children love being involved, and getting them to help out and entrusting them with little jobs will no doubt get them excited about taking part. My little girl loves to throw parties, and will no doubt go on to be a major dinner party thrower when she grows up. On the weekends, we love to invite family and friends around for big, lazy brunches, but sometimes, when time allows it, we will even decorate the dinner table with a little confetti and the good glasses on a regular Thursday – just because a fancy table does indeed make everything taste a little better.
Another thing I have found is that cooking different food is a great way of learning about what people eat in different countries, and also, just because "themed" dinners are so much fun. Just think about it – cooking curries can kick off a great chat about India, and preparing tapas (you can customize your tapas to be totally child-friendly) is a great way to learn about Spain and Spanish food.
We have recently introduced Taco Tuesdays in our house, which has quickly become the whole family's favourite night of the week.
The kids love being involved in chopping up all the different bits we need to fill our taco shells or tortillas, and we turned a corner recently when I actually managed to get both of them to have a little taste of the guacamole!
(Oh, and feel free to go all out with sombreros, colourful umbrellas for the water glasses and a table full of succulents too, mamas!)
How do YOU try to make sure your children grow up loving healthy food and cooking? We'd love to hear your tips and tricks, so let us know in the comments.