Tips for Healthy Cooking with Kids
Tip: Take your kids to the farmers' market. Being around a variety of produce will get them excited about bringing items home and cooking them.
You have to spend a little time teaching them about equipment, techniques and the ingredients themselves. Number one -- you're trying to increase their comfort in the kitchen and number two -- you're trying to expose them to new foods. Start small. Have them help wash the produce, or have them stir something. Kids love stirring and they also love kneading dough. You can make a big batch of pizza dough, give them a little bit to play with and then never even use it. If a task is quick and has immediate results, like measuring does, for example, that's better.
Tip: If you want to get your kids into the kitchen, start off on a day where you have a lot of patience and energy. Make something that doesn't have a lot of ingredients or steps, or something that's easy to fix should things go wrong -- like soup.
They're almost involved just by being around food and seeing it made. You can start as young as three. If kids are going through life transitions, around the ages of 12 or 13, that makes it a little challenging. When I started teaching classes, it was either for kids who were home alone and had to fend for themselves or kids going away to college. They have the most need, but I've taught younger groups as well. I think you just have to have different expectations for the age groups.
Tip: Kids, especially younger ones, aren't exactly known for their long attention spans. They may get bored halfway through the cooking process and decide to go play instead. Don't let it get you down. The lessons have already begun to sunk in, and you'll have plenty more opportunities for teaching.
I would stay away from big knives, especially with smaller kids. I had Jack peel a cucumber, but even a vegetable peeler can cut little hands. If you give them something above their level, give them good guidance and watch. You have to press upon safety issues with them. Make sure the handle on the hot pan isn't sticking out where it can be knocked off the top of the stove -- things like that.
Tip: If you are going to hand the knives over to the kids, give them the good ones. Beginners more likely to cut themselves with dull or low-quality knives.
You don't have to do it all at once. Just try to incorporate better foods, but don't make it too crazy. You want to take something they're already familiar with and make it healthy. You can't expect your kid to eat quinoa loaf with shiitake mushrooms and tofu. I did a burrito in one class, and instead of rice I used millet. It really worked well -- maybe even better than rice because it has that corn taste that complements Mexican cooking. That's a good way to sneak a whole grain in. Also, if food has a variety of color, flavors and textures, kids are more likely to enjoy it.
Tip: Sometimes judicious bribing can work. Give your kid incentives to try new, healthy foods -- stickers, a new toy, an extra half-hour of TV. And experiment with different preparations. Many kids who hate boiled Brussels sprouts grow up to be adults who love eating them roasted.