There’s no denying it, we are spending a lot more time at home these days. That said, we would argue that there’s never been a better time to focus on building healthy habits with the family. Besides more quality R & R, planning and preparing healthy meals together may benefit and boost your family's mood! Today, Stephen and I are sharing the importance of cooking meals together, getting the whole family on board, and how you can help your children develop healthy palates and kitchen confidence!
Did you know? The food experiences, behaviors, and attitudes children adopt early in life, may have a direct and positive impact on their future health and lifestyle choices. Big stuff, right? This means that right now, we have a unique opportunity to help guide our children towards establishing healthy dietary habits. Repeated, no-pressure exposure to foods like fruits and vegetables and consistent mealtime practices sets a positive tone. Not only that, enlisting the family's help in the meal planning and preparation process can also help alleviate work off of mom and dad (aka happy parents!) and make kids more likely to expand their culinary horizons (happy kids!).
Lead By Example
Children mirror what they see and hear and that rule applies to our food habits as well. If we find ourselves consistently grumbling about eating veggies or having to cook dinner, we can be sure our children will soon be mirroring these same attitudes. We can set a positive example with our actions and words by:
Planning healthy meals, together! Everyone gets to choose a star fruit and vegetable to go with the week’s menu. Try selecting produce from all colors of the rainbow! When it comes time to eat, the person who chose each item can help wash, chop, or cook it! Studies show that when children play a role in the selection and preparation of foods, they are more likely to try them as well!
Making a Shopping List – If shopping as a family is too chaotic, enlist help creating your shopping list. Older family members can help younger siblings write down ingredients based on grocery department. Create a pantry/freezer checklist and have someone mark off when items are used or restocked. Check your inventory checklist before shopping to avoid purchasing unnecessary items.
Grocery Shopping – Consider shopping on a consistent day each week to make it a routine. Each helper can locate, bag, and select ingredients in the store, and check off items as you go. While shopping, have children point out as many colors of produce as they can! See a new fruit or vegetable? This is the perfect opportunity to try something new, together!
Preparing healthy snacks bags – Children of all ages can help create healthy snacks. Allow them to select the fruits and vegetables to go inside. Younger children can help wash and bag snack ingredients. Older children can assist with peeling and chopping produce. Discuss the textures of the foods in the snack bags. Are the foods crunchy? Chewy? Tart or sweet? Descriptors help expand their vocabulary and understand food preferences beyond just "yummy" or "yucky"!
“Shop Your Pantry” Scavenger Hunt – Whether trying to cut down on weekly spending or simply want to use up pantry goods, make a game out of your fridge and pantry finds! Look at the foods you already have on hand and get the family's help creating a meal using only the foods in your fridge or pantry.
Eat a Rainbow Challenge - Eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables is not only important for our bodies, but may positively affect our mood! Emerging research suggests a possible tie between healthy gut bacteria and improved mood. At home, create a rainbow chart and have family member's mark off each colorful fruit and vegetable they eat throughout the day.
Try New Things – Saw a fun recipe online or a new-to-you fruit or veggie at the store? Now is the perfect time to try new foods and dishes, together! Experimenting together in a no-pressure environment helps children feel more comfortable and excited to try new things. Try creating fruit and veggie kabobs with familiar and new-to-you fruits and veggies to try together!
Making food fun – When it comes time to cook, make it a family affair! Put on your favorite music, don goofy hats, or create cooking teams. When packing lunches, create a "factory" line and start a timer! Working together is efficient and who says you can’t have fun?
Benefits for All
Of course, children are not the only ones who benefit from cooking more at home. Some studies indicate that adults who prepare their own meals may have greater feelings of self worth and confidence in their kitchen abilities. This is likely due in part to feeling better about preparing, and consuming, nutritious meals. Those who enjoy cooking may even view the process as a form of self-care. Psychologists suggest cooking may offer a primal sense of reward through the act of serving others. And of course, there is a financial reward that comes from spending less for prepared meals.
Healthy Habits for Life
Regularly involving our children in the kitchen helps them build confidence and creativity for their own culinary creations. While we may not be able to help children love all foods, we can help them develop healthier, more varied palates through repeated exposure. Incorporating more nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables in our diet can provide our bodies with important nutrients and help us feel our best, even in unpredictable times. Using positive language around food and eating has the ability to nurture healthier relationships around food and self image.
While we are navigating this new normal, we encourage you to take this opportunity to get cooking with your family. There is no right or wrong! Experiment, try new things, have fun, and plant the seeds for your family’s lifelong creativity in the kitchen.
This post was made in partnership with the Produce For Better Health Foundation. All opinions expressed are our own.