By Christina Vila, Early Learning Coalition of Miami-Dade/Monroe
Healthy habits start at home, and the heart of a house is its kitchen. Cooking with children can provide a range of health, nutrition and educational opportunities for the whole family.
Children like to shadow their parents. When dinnertime comes around, parents can use it as a bonding experience. Instead of chasing them away and seeing the hazards of little ones in the kitchen, parents can encourage learning through food.
Children of all ages can benefit from culinary experiences. According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Team Nutrition, cooking with young children builds confidence and an early sense of independence. Working together can also hone a sense of family, allowing children to feel like they belong to a part of a group.
Parents can teach them their colors and shapes by pointing out differences in fruits and vegetables. There is also the opportunity to learn about the difference between hot and cold.
For children who are a little older, a simple weight scale can encourage enthusiasm for math. Use the scale to determine the difference between the weight of a chicken breast and that of a tomato. Ask your child to determine how many carrots you would need to equal the weight of a potato. Simple experiments like this can bring the classroom to life and make lessons easier to understand.
Even if children cannot assist in the preparation of the food, their senses are still at work. Allow them to taste the food at its different stages, touch the utensils as they help you stir, and listen as you chop the ingredients. Smelling the food and seeing it come together can be the most exciting part of the process.
According to “Cooking with Preschoolers” on the KidsHealth website (http://www.kidshealth.org), allowing children to help you in the kitchen can encourage them to go beyond their usual favorite foods and sample dishes you wouldn’t expect them to. If they have a hand in preparing it, they may be more receptive to different ingredients.
Parents who decide to incorporate cooking into daily life are laying the foundation for healthy eating. Colorful dishes not only look good to eat, they also keep everyone healthy and strong. Incorporating fruits and vegetables in daily meals boosts immune systems and reinforces a healthy cycle.
If you are unsure of how to incorporate cooking into your daily family life, consider taking a family cooking class. The Healthy Meals Resource System, an online information center for USDA Child Nutrition Programs (CNP), is a valuable resource for families. This website (http://healthymeals.nal.usda.gov/) offers recipes and menu planning tools for families.
Cooking with children may be a messy process, but the time spent together will outweigh the time spent cleaning up.
Posted in Parent Center |