How else are they (your kiddos) going to be healthy unless they learn to both identify healthy food and then prepare it for themselves and eventually for their family and friends?

I was nodding my head in agreement reading a Time Magazine article just recently entitled How To Eat Now with the tag line “Bestselling food writer Mark Bittman wants you to stay in and eat at home because it’s good for you, it’s good for your family – and it’s far easier than you think.” (1) All I could say was Amen!

In this article Mark showcases the multiple food channels we have running 24/7 with celebrity chefs making beautiful, photo worthy entrees, side dishes and beverages…they even teach us how to make these things step by step…but as a whole, he argues, we are not cooking more. Full disclosure, my 7 year old stumbled upon the YouTube show Nerdy Nummies and now knows exactly what free range eggs are – so there are some positive effects of watching cooking shows…just don’t buy takeout more often than not and settle in to The Food Network…seems like an oxymoron?

Everyday life: family with two children at home in the kitchen, cooking and talking.

Meal prep as a family affair not only teaches kids about cooking, it equips them with valuable skills, promoting lifelong health and self-sufficiency. What’s more, eating together strengthens communication and tightens bonds. According to a study by Columbia’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, teens who eat with their families 5 or more times per week claim to enjoy better relationships with their parents and are less likely to drink and do drugs.“ (2)

I don’t know many parents of teens (athlete or not) who wouldn’t welcome a hearty, conflict free conversation over a family meal in which most of the family was part of the prep.

What if you (the parent) don’t know how to cook? Well if you don’t want to learn then send your kiddo to the house of someone you know and trust that does like to cook (aunt, cousin, grandparent, fellow teammate or neighbor) and ask them to help. Most of us know someone who loves to cook, is good at it and would love to share their love. You’d get them a coach or tutor to learn a skill they were not mastering, why treat cooking with any less importance?

I’ve seen first hand in group classes I’ve taught that once armed with some simple instructions and guidance, children (teen athletes especially) take the reigns on meals, especially ones they are preparing for themselves, like at breakfast or lunch.

Benefits of learning to cook are many; confidence, bonding, health, improved performance in sport and school (if what is being prepared is ‘healthy’).

WebMD had this list of benefits to share… (3)

Some Short-Term Benefits:

  • It encourages kids to try healthy foods.
  • Kids feel like they are accomplishing something and contributing to the family.
  • Kids are more likely to sit down to a family meal when they helped prepare it.
  • Parents get to spend quality time with their kids.
  • Kids aren’t spending time in front of the TV or computer while they’re cooking.
  • Kids generally aren’t eating junk food when they’re cooking a meal at home.

Some Long-Term Benefits:

  • Learning to cook is a skill your children can use for the rest of their lives.
  • Kids who learn to eat well may be more likely to eat healthfully as adults.
  • Positive cooking experiences can help build self-confidence.
  • Kids who cook with their parents may even be less likely to abuse drugs.

So when/how should you start? Here’s another great list from the same WebMD article titled “Why it’s so important to spend time in the kitchen with your children — and how you can get started” (3)

Under 5 Years Old:

  • Scrub, dip, tear, break, and snap (for example, snapping the ends off green beans)
  • Shake, spread, and cut with a cookie or biscuit cutter
  • Peel (some items), roll, juice, and mash
  • Remove husks from corn
  • Wash vegetables in a colander
  • Measure and pour some ingredients
  • Hand mix

8-10 Year Olds:

Everything listed above, plus some more advanced duties, such as…

  • Cracking and separating eggs (I started this one much earlier)
  • Reading some recipes by themselves
  • Inventing their own easy-to-fix recipes
  • Using the electric mixer (with adult supervision if needed)
  • Stirring food over the stove (with adult supervision if needed)
  • Using and reading a candy thermometer (with adult supervision if needed)
  • Operating a can opener or food processor with safety features
  • Grating cheese
  • Cutting vegetables, fruits, etc. (using a plastic knife or dinner knife)

According to a British Study “Children who learn to cook before the age of eight are 50% more likely to have healthy diet.” (4)

The Children’s Food Trust carried out a study by surveying children aged up to 16 years old and looked into the long-term effects of learning to cook from a young age. Rob Rees, of the Children’s Food Trust, said: “There has never been a more critical time to focus on getting kids cooking. It’s vital we equip future generations with the skills and knowledge to make good nutritional choices and this begins with getting them cooking”

The authors of this article mentioned how children couldn’t identify certain vegetables from one another and were a bit competitive in their comparisons of their children with those of others European neighbors stating, “British children begin acquiring culinary skills much later than youngsters from around Europe. Children in countries like France and Germany tend to start experimenting with cooking at the age of 7 – 2 years before those from the UK.”  I wonder where the United States would stack up?

These are some items I’m working on teaching my 3 elementary school age children:

  • Cracking an egg (they’ve got this down from an all out smash to the delicate tap and pull open)
  • Washing veggies
  • Cutting veggies (lots of supervision, generally reserved for children first grade and up)
  • Pouring and adding measured ingredients to recipes (olive oil, flour, oatmeal, rice)

How about this week you think of 3 ways that you and your children can be involved in the kitchen (microwave cooking does not count). Maybe it’s just some food identification. Could your child identify spinach from lettuce or Avocado from squash? Can they slice an avocado with a butter knife or can they start this week by washing the spinach in the colander to help with dinner prep? It can start with those easy tasks, with an effect spanning their lifetime.



  1. Time Magazine October 20, 2014 VOL 184, NO. 15 2014 Page 50