For the sake of our health – both physical and emotional – it’s time to get back to basics and “Simply Cook and Enjoy”. It was the theme of this year’s Dietitians of Canada’s Annual Nutrition Month in March.
Teaching kids to cook has become less of a priority for parents, who may be caught up in encouraging their children to improve other skills, such as math, literacy and computer competence. But in fact, learning to cook can incorporate all of those skills.
Remember home economics class? It may have seemed like a “bird” course, but, in fact, kids were being taught valuable skills with unimagined health benefits. It’s pretty tough to meet nutrition recommendations unless you’re making meals yourself. For example, a Canadian Community Health Survey showed that Canadians consume a daily average of more than 3,000 milligrams of sodium. (The daily recommendation is 1,500 milligrams, with 2,300 milligrams the maximum). The culprit? Processed foods, which deliver a whopping 77 percent of that sodium.
Homemade food can slash sodium totals in a flash. Meeting fibre quotas is also an easier task when whole foods are used, as is meeting the suggested number of servings of foods such as vegetables.
Cooking need not be a huge time commitment. No one wants or has the time to spend hours preparing meals. And you don’t need to shun all convenience foods. Instead use healthy convenience items to cut food prep time significantly.
Second, meal planning is essential so that when you want to cook, you have the ingredients for various dishes on hand. It also helps you make the most of cooking opportunities. For example, if you’re cooking chicken breasts for dinner one night, double the amount and plan to use the extra in a salad or casserole, the next night.
Draft a one- or two-week menu as a family activity. Have each family member be responsible for finding and helping make their chosen fare. Get your kids to research possible dishes online, giving them guidelines as to what they’re looking for. Younger children can help seek out recipes.
Older kids can do more prep on their own such as chopping and peeling, but younger ones can contribute as well. They can measure or stir and be made to feel they helped the food taste great. Then have everyone participate in what goes on the menu. Using score cards can make it fun and lead to a menu that everyone has a hand in.
Why not have a family recipe challenge once a month where each family member chooses a new ingredient that everyone has to taste and rate? It is truly amazing what kids will eat if they’ve had a hand in preparing it. They’ll also expect others to eat it as well.
Getting your kids into the kitchen will not only teach them key skills, it will also likely broaden their tastes for a variety of foods, a positive outcome for their nutritional status.
To add to the payoffs, research shows that togetherness at family meals offers many emotional benefits as a result of the opportunity to communicate and spend quality time together.
A well-stocked pantry, freezer and refrigerator can simplify preparing delicious and nutritious fare. With these basics, home cooking is a breeze:
Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian in private practice and author of The Enlightened Eater’s Whole Foods Guide (Viking Canada). Visit rosieschwartz.com for more.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, April 2014.