Being home with my family all day during a COVID-19 lockdown has required a lot of creativity to keep us all busy. This has provided us with the opportunity to come up with fun new ways to further engage my child’s interest in food and nutrition. I thought I would share some of these ideas as well as some that are tried and true.
In each of my next four blog posts (including this post), I will highlight three or four different ideas. So let’s get started!
#1 – Cook meals together!
One of the easiest ways to help kids become interested in food and nutrition is to allow them to help in the kitchen.
As soon as my child was old enough to use a plastic knife we encouraged her to cut up soft items such as bananas or other soft fruit. She also helped to stir, mash, sprinkle, measure and pour. Now that she is a little older (8 years old) she can help with all the food prep, including chopping with a sharp knife. She is able to chop all items except raw animal products. She reads recipes, which is also a fun way to practice reading and math (fractions and addition if doubling the recipe). My daughter also occasionally suggests changes to recipes, which sometimes is appropriate and sometimes not. If the change wouldn’t work, I use it as an opportunity to explain why. If the change is appropriate – we go for it! For example, one day I was about to start prepping ingredients for stew and my daughter asked if we could make a stew with ingredients she suggested. So that is exactly what we did… and it was delicious. In case you are wondering, the stew contained beef, carrots, celery, onion, potato, peas, corn and tomato.
Starting young helps your child build confidence in the kitchen which leads to more independence as they get older. Confidence and independence encourages even more experimentation and interest. Allow teens to take the responsibility for a meal a week (or more!). Remember that it is never too late to start. Even if your child is a teen and you yourself have very little cooking experience. Learn together!
There are many websites and blogs available that can teach basic meals. Some sites even provide videos for better instruction and understanding. Start simple and then begin to challenge yourself as you get more comfortable. Even as a dietitian, I still have some cooking/baking flops. It is just the chance I take when experimenting or trying something new. Most often the winners out way those flops. Don’t get frustrated and keep at it.
#2 – Let your children plan your meal
When trying to decide what to make for dinner or planning your weekly menu, ask your children. At first you may only hear their favourite food or meal. My daughter would almost always say, “pasta” when I first started asking. Sometimes we would have pasta, other times I would say, “we just had pasta, what else can we have?”. This gives us the opportunity to discuss the importance of variety in our meals.
Now my daughter suggests many different meals, including roast lamb or chicken, pulled pork, sauteed veggies, stews and, of course, occasionally pasta. As the variety in her suggestions has improved, we are now able to focus more on creating balanced meals. If she asks for lamb, my reply is, “what should we have with it?”
Canada’s food guide can provide a great visual picture to help with hints of the types of foods that may be missing. https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/
#3 – Discuss foods while you are eating or cooking with them
Talking about the foods that you are eating or preparing is a great way to start a new discussion about nutrition with your children. You do not need to be an expert and understand all of the complex science of certain foods or nutrition concepts. Even if you start with the origins of specific foods, it can lead your child to become more mindful about what they are eating and may spark further questions and interest.
Food facts that may be common knowledge to us may not be to our children. For instance, the fact that eggs come from chickens and that those chickens are raised by farmers who collect the eggs. Discussing this idea can then lead to further discussions about how they are gathered, cleaned and processed before they are sent out to the grocery store. If you do not know the answer to these questions, don’t fret! If old enough, you can have your child research the topic or do so together as a family. There are many family friendly resources available. If you are unsure where to start, online research is an easy place to start. You can also visit your local library to see what books they have, which can be a fun free outing. Every librarian I have met has always been very keen to help you find what you are looking for.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series coming soon!
Disclaimer: The above information is intended for general public education and is not intended to be dietetic advice in any respect or to any person. Use of this information does not make any person a direct client of Tanya Brown,RD for any purpose and no such relationship will exist unless a formal client relationship has been entered into. Please consult your Doctor or a Registered Dietitian for individual recommendations prior to making any dietary or lifestyle changes.