Why would your child order broccoli in the school cafeteria if she never eats it at home? And a kid isn't likely to become a veggie-loving adult if he didn't grow up eating them as a child.
One way to remedy that: Start cooking with your kids, regardless of their age.
“It’s not that terrifying,” Lola Bloom, co-founder and executive director of City Blossoms, a nonprofit that engages children in developing and managing creative community green spaces in Washington, D.C., told a recent Georgia Organics conference workshop on Cooking With Young Children Ages 2-9. Just remember, though, she cautioned, “it’s about the process, not the outcome.”
While the workshop was for preschool and elementary school teachers, the tactics Bloom suggested are easily applied at home. So is the goal, making healthy food choices. To ensure the outcome is happy for all parties, Bloom offered several tips for cooking with children.
- Make it fun. Wear aprons. Sing songs. Bring other things into the process that your children enjoy.
- Use smart kitchen prep. Think safety, especially in using plastic knives designed for children rather than the real thing. Bowls, a mortar and pestle, and spoons are generally tools children can safely use. Wipes are better than hand sanitizer and washing hands regularly without using too much liquid soap is important.
- Think pickables. Grow plants that produce food children can pick. Think blueberries, (thornless) blackberries, raspberries, herbs and tomatoes, for example. Don’t be upset if the kids pick too much. Herbs are great starter plants for children. If kids go overboard picking, for instance, herbs typically will keep producing and can be dried.
- Consider bridge foods. Children love cheese. A simple food you can make with cheese is a quesadilla. You can also add herbs and other plants such as peppers from the garden.
- Tempt the taste buds. This is a great way to introduce children to new food, especially food they haven’t seen before and may not want. Introduce new foods, especially ones they may be resistant to slowly. Be aware that older children can have a negative peer pressure influence. If an older sibling or a friend doesn’t like something, you could have a challenge on your hands. Another challenge is to remember that little children have more taste buds than adults. Some strong-tasting foods can overwhelm them.
- Use multiple senses. Think touch, smell, hearing. Don’t be afraid to tickle a cheek with a chive. Do some foods smush up? Are others crunchy? Again, go slowly. You can always give more, but it’s hard to give less when developing sense to various foods.
- Taste things first. It’s a good idea to taste something before your children do. After you give thanks, if that’s your custom, you can add to the fun by toasting or giving cheers for the children’s efforts in making the meal. If things go south at that point, some adult lines to defuse little tempers are… "Remember, we made this together" or "We should respect the hard work that went into making this meal."
- Don’t yuck my yum. Teach children to be honest but sensitive about their feelings about whether they like a food. What they say may not hurt them, but it may hurt another child’s ability to like or even try that same food. "Yuck!" and "I don’t like that" will have different impacts on young minds.
- Think safety first. Be aware of the possibility of choking and know what your children are allergic to. But we aware of this trick. If kids don’t like something, they may figure out on their own — or learn from older siblings or peers — to say they are allergic to it. Know your kids!
Spending time in the kitchen with tweens and teens can teach a lifetime of healthy eating. (Photo: vita khorzhevska/Shutterstock)
Cooking with tweens and teens
Convincing older kids to join in cooking at home poses a different set of challenges than cooking with younger children. If you can win the “it’s better than doing calculus” argument, cooking healthy food with your tweens and teens is a great way to connect to their lives. First, though, you may have to overcome your own hesitations.
Those hesitations include cost, feasibility and safety, Whitney Denham, the chef at the quaint restaurant Grapes and Beans in the North Georgia Mountain town of Clayton, told a workshop session on Cooking with Tweens and Teens. Denham should know, She cooks frequently with older kids through the Farm to School program in North Georgia.
Here are her tips:
Cost. Grow what you can, and shop for things you can’t grow when they are in season at local farmer’s markets.
Feasibility. Think of recipes that are easy. The easiest recipes of all are those that call for raw ingredients.
Safety. Here’s where you need to brace yourself because knives and peelers with sharp edges are involved. The first step is to know your children’s skill levels. With knives, teach them to watch their fingers, not a sibling or you. Their finger tips should be curled backwards so the flat surface of the knife rests against their knuckles with the blade end pointing down. With peelers, teach them to peel away from their bodies so they are more likely to peel the food than their fingers!
Cooking stations. To develop different cooking skills, choose recipes with multiple steps: washing, peeling, stirring, mixing and measuring. In addition to developing skills, the stations allow your children to take ownership of one or more steps in preparing a dish or a meal.
Hand washing. Teach your children that their hands are the best tools they have and it’s important to keep them clean. To make sure hands are thoroughly washed, Denham tells her students to sing "Happy Birthday" one time through as they wash their hands.
Tasting. This can be done as you prepare a meal, especially if you are using different kinds of greens and in addition to comparing tastes want to compare textures and other differences. Children should know it’s OK not to love everything, but it’s not OK to ruin something for someone else.
A few simple ingredients equals a tasty dressing. (Photo: Lapina Maria/Shutterstock)
Here's an easy recipe to try with your kids.
Basil oil salad dressing
Infusing olive oil with garden-fresh herbs is an easy and classic way for young gardeners to make a salad dressing. You can substitute leaves from herbs such as rosemary, thyme, tarragon, oregano or others your children especially enjoy for the basil.
10 large basil leaves
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
4 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 lemon squeezed
Pepper to taste
Mortar and pestle (or small bowl and wooden spoon)
Pick basil leaves. (Hint: When picking the leaves, pinching off flower stalks will encourage the plant to grow more leaves and help leaves still on the plant not get a bitter taste.)
Wash leaves and chop or tear them into small pieces.
Put cut basil leaves and sea salt in the mortar and pestle or the bowl and grind, twist or mush them until the basil is bruised and ground.
Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and mix with the basil until the oil starts turning greenish. Add the rest of the olive oil and mix well.
Pour into a container with lemon juice and stir vigorously to blend.
Add pepper to taste and drizzle onto salad.