10 Easy Ways to Teach Kids to Cook

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A new study published by the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior has found that adults who were able to learn cooking and meal preparation skills in adolescence make better dietary choices later in life.

The study followed participants over 10 years to compare their cooking skills with their dietary habits as young adults. Perceived efficacy of cooking skills predicted multiple indicators of nutrition success later in life including preparing a meal with vegetables most days and consumption of fast food less often.

Here are 10 easy ways to teach cooking skills to kids who are elementary or high school aged:

  1. Assign one day of each week where a child can plan and prepare dinner. Giving a child a say in family menu planning makes teaching easier because the child will feel empowered and more motivated to prepare dinner and try new foods.
  2. Organize your kitchen so it is easy for more people to help with meal preparation. Some examples include making the utensil drawer more organized and less cluttered; making more counter space; buying more efficient meal preparation appliances like blenders, toaster ovens, panini machines, slow cookers, and instant pots.
  3. Visit the library or magazine stand for ideas on easy-to-prepare meals using seasonal ingredients.
  4. Visit local-food stores and farmers markets so the child can find ingredients they love and then research recipes to use to create a meal. This fosters a love of research and independence because it shows them that it is easy to find and follow a recipe and that you do not need to "know everything."
  5. Do a little more to help the child get started and clean up in the beginning. Do less as he or she learns more skills. Cleaning should be a family affair to share the work.
  6. Take your family shopping and involve them in meal preparation more often. When my son was young I used to take him shopping every Friday night and he would get an opinion in the food aisles. He still shops for groceries and prepares meals in college. Grocery shopping as family entertainment is cost effective and educational.
  7. The easiest dishes to make include chile, soup, pasta, and salads. Veggie burgers are very fast and can be turned into show-stopping presentations when they are open-faced and piled high with all kinds of vegetables. Pizza can be made by using a bread machine to make the dough.
  8. Teach kitchen safety. Use safety gloves so that knives don't cut hands. Teach care with handling hot pans on a stove and oven with good oven mitts and good communication.
  9. Reverse roles. You can be the helper in role playing. The child is the chef and you can set the table and do the dishes!
  10. Have patience. Being a parent is a big juggling act of work, chores, errands and activities. It is harder at first to allow time to plan meals, shop, learn to cook, clean, and teach but the end result of better health for life is worth it!

For more information:

“Self-Perceived Cooking Skills in Emerging Adulthood Predict Better Dietary Behaviors and Intake 10 Years Later: A Longitudinal Study,” by Jennifer Utter, PhD, MPH, RD; Nicole Larson, PhD, MPH, RDN; Melissa N. Laska, PhD, RD; Megan Winkler, PhD, RN, CPNP-PC; and Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, PhD, MPH, RD (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jneb.2018.01.021). It appears in Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, volume 50, issue 5 (May 2018) published by Elsevier.


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