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Kids in the Kitchen – A Guide to Healthy Eating Habits

What’s better than spending quality time with your child? There are so many wonderful ways to spend that time, including cooking together! Allowing children into the kitchen and letting them help create nutritious and delicious edibles has so many benefits. If you are wondering what they can gain from this experience and how they can work safely in the kitchen, please keep reading. We want to help you set your child on those first steps to mastering the culinary arts by developing their knowledge of food and gastronomy skills.

Children’s Eating Habits

According to the World Health Organization, the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables (FV) is 400 grams per day, around five servings (Raggio and Gámbaro, 2018). However, that number is significantly lower in the US, where they only consume approximately one serving of FV. In Australia, only 30% of children have consumed adequate amounts of FV. Not eating the appropriate amount of FV, particularly in the early stages of life, can pose a health risk in the future. Early eating habits usually stay the same as they grow up. In addition, poor nutrition in childhood is associated with unhealthy body weight in adulthood ((Ritchie, O’Hara, and Taylor, 2015).

There could be several contributing factors to why children have poor eating habits and avoid eating FV. The influence from parents and daily exposure could be considered a major reason because adults easily influence children. Another reason could be related to fear and distaste for FV due to their inclination towards sweeter foods rather than the bitter flavors in some vegetables (Raggio and Gámbaro, 2018).

Making Positive Changes

There are more than a few ways on how to change children’s eating habits. To start, you can act as a model figure for them and eat FV in front of them, encouraging them to eat with you. Also, you can increase the amount and variety of FV in their meals and snacks. For example, you can use pasta made with different vegetables. Not only will the nutritional value increase, but the presentation and color variety will make them excited to eat it. As a snack, you can incorporate different kinds of FV.

But perhaps the best way to encourage them is to allow them to be involved in the kitchen and let them see how different foods are made. Specifically, let them plan their meals by choosing their favorite FV, asking what meal or snack they envision, and putting it all together. You can also let them experiment with different FV by feeling and trying new textures, shapes, and flavors (Children’s diet – fruit and vegetables – Better Health Channel, 2021).

Creating a Safe Environment

While it can be a fun experience to be involved in the kitchen, there are safety hazards all around. From sharp objects to burning stovetops, precautions need to be taken because children are naturally curious and may want to touch and play with anything within reach. To avoid any possible injuries, you can purchase kid-friendly knives and stovetop guards. Another potential risk is food allergies. Getting confirmation from a nutritionist of any food allergies is essential. If your child does have an allergy, make sure they understand and know what the possible consequences are. Also, cleanliness is integral to cooking, so make sure you and your child wash your hands thoroughly before starting and after each step. Children of all ages should help to clean up before and after cooking!

Depending on their age and abilities, children can help to prepare meals while also learning about them. Toddlers aged 2-3 years old can assist in measuring and pouring ingredients, kneading dough, spreading sauce on pizza, and decorating cookies.

Children aged 4-5 will begin to have more opportunities in the kitchen. As complex motor skills begin developing, they can help stir ingredients, pick herbs, and wash FV.

Once they reach 6-7 years of age, they can participate in the trickier parts of the baking process. They should be able to complete the more complex steps, such as scraping the sides of the bowl when mixing the batter and cracking eggs. They should also be setting the table and washing the dishes after meals.

Eight to nine-year-old children can begin planning meals for themselves and perhaps the whole family. Since they’ve established their preferred foods, they can probably plan what they want to take to school with them and help with the shopping list. If you think they are ready, you can also supervise as they cook on the stovetop, making meals like scrambled eggs or pancakes.

And finally, you can let them spread their wings and let them work with more complex tasks once they begin their pre-adolescent years. Tweens can saute simple things on the stove, bake and decorate a cake, experiment with creating meals, and chop varied ingredients. Make sure to always be on hand if they need any help (Negrin, n.d.).

Last May, we allowed our Pre-K students at RAS to come into the school kitchen to meet Chef Sara and her team. They toured the kitchen and learned about all the kitchen tools and everything related to food preparation. It was an incredibly enriching experience for them because they got to have an early insight into cooking along with their peers.

Ants on a Log Recipe

This is a great snack recipe for both children and adults. It is both simple and has a high nutritional value. You can use either celery sticks or apple slices and then spread some peanut butter on them. Finally, for the ants, place raisins on top, and voila, you’ve got yourself ants walking on your celery or apples (you probably don’t want real ants walking on your food, though). If your child has a peanut allergy, you can substitute it with almond butter.

Written by
Jumana Raggam

Raffles American School
Johor Bahru, Malaysia

References
Betterhealth.vic.gov.au. 2021. Children’s diet – fruit and vegetables – Better Health Channel. [online]
https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/childrens-diet-fruit-and-vegetables [Accessed 2 November 2021].
Negrin, J., n.d. How to Safely Include Kids in the Kitchen. [online] Food Network UK | TV Channel | Easy Recipes, TV Shows.

https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/packages/recipes-for-kids/cooking-with-kids/best-cooking-
tasks-kids-every-age [Accessed 2 November 2021].

Raggio, L. and Gámbaro, A., 2018. Study of the reasons for the consumption of each type of vegetable within a population of school-aged children. BMC Public Health, 18(1).

Ritchie, B., O’Hara, L. and Taylor, J., 2015. ‘Kids in the Kitchen’ impact evaluation: engaging primary school students in preparing fruit and vegetables for their own consumption. Health Promotion Journal of Australia, 26(2), pp.146-149.

Facebook post about Pre-K students in the kitchen
https://www.facebook.com/RafflesAmericanSchool/posts/4044328362328770

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