Thursday, April 9, 2015

Kids Can Cook and Want to Given the Chance...

Cooking together with your family is one of the most important factors to healthy eating. Making the change from cooking for your kids to cooking with your kids can feel like a leap but it's all about taking one small step at a time. Gradually your kids will be more proficient, independent, their confidence will grow and you will reap the rewards of building a stronger family connection and eating more healthily just by cooking together. Of course, it's easier and less messy if you just do it yourself, but if you allow your children to take part in some of the preparations, you will give them a sense of ownership and pride in the final results. And it can be a superb way to motivate fussy eaters to try new tastes and gain confidence with a variety of foods. Preparing meals can be educational; children quickly pick up new skills when they're having fun- they'll learn about weighing, measuring, mixing, spreading, pouring, chopping, organising and following instructions, as well as finding out how ingredients work together. This translates to everyday life- trying a new recipe is not unlike learning math or problem-solving skills. It takes persistence, resilience, patience and creative thinking- life lessons that is worthy of a messy kitchen!

I have been reading the alarming rates of how home cooking is in serious decline- less and less are enjoying a home-cooked meal, and worse it's being taken over by convenience food and the microwave. Kids are no longer learning this basic life skill at home or at school, and it has negatively impacted their health. Eating processed foods and consuming food outside the home are playing key roles in the high rates of obesity and the stark reality that this is the first generation of kids that might not outlive their parents. (Let's Move. "Learn the Facts," Feb 25th, 2014). A big part of the solution: teach kids the essential life skill of how to cook and how to cook nutritious foods! This message can't be louder... as an ambassador for Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, Jamie’s global petition will call on the leaders and governments of all G20 countries to make practical food education a compulsory part of every school curriculum. Sign and make your voice heard. We can make this happen together!

Taking the learnings from my collaboration with Jennifer Tyler Lee's book 52 New Foods Challenge, here are some of her fantastic tips to keep sanity while learning to cook together:

Remove constraints- start by setting some time during the weekend to cook without time constraints. Offer a few easy, healthy recipes that can be done within an hour and let them choose one or two to make. Set it up like a project, with all the supplies- ingredients, cooking tools and equipment you need on the family table with nothing pre-measured or cut.

Let Go- just let them do it with close supervision while using kitchen tools. Go beyond making cookies such as prepping ingredients for soups, salads and dips.

Experiment- let your kids get creative, creating recipes with their intuition and trying new combinations such as toppings for salads, pizzas and homemade lemonade with different fruits. Encourage your kids to taste as they go, tweaking the seasoning to suit their taste preference. Ask questions so they learn to be well-versed in describing food characteristics and get in tune with their five senses, "what can you add to make it more sweet?", "what do you need to make it less sour?" "describe the smell and flavours of the dish?", "do you like it more salty, sweet, sour etc.,?" Soon your kids will be rhyming off food descriptors that will help both of you make great dishes together. Most importantly, just have fun!!

The following are a series of my favourite photos of my kids helping with meal preparations and those from my friends engaging their kids in the kitchen...

At one point, you got to let them try using knives. Closely supervised you will be surprised at how careful and responsible they can be. 
My boys lopping off green bean ends.

Washing and scrubbing vegetables is an easy but awesome task for kids to take part in. 

My son preparing rainbow carrot pickles.

Seasoning homemade guacamole.

Happy corn husking! Perfect task for the little one to help out.

Scooping seeds out of melons or gourds is a favourite task, then enjoying the fruits of their labour.

My friend Cathy has this to say cooking with her lovely girls, "my kids love making homemade pasta, choosing the shape and putting it through the press. With the Pampered Chef gadgets, they can safely slice veggies and manually process ingredients for salsa, chili and soups."

Photo Credit: Cathy Ireland

My cousin Helen's son looks so adorable going from serious to hilarious.... She tells me he was tenderizing the veal because they were attempting to make veal cutlet for the very first time. He was very excited to pound the veal as it left impressions from the meat tenderizer. He didn't eat any as he isn't a meat fan but the rest of the family enjoyed it. Ashton can't wait to pound again... he enjoys helping out in the kitchen.

Photo Credits: Helen Goodbody

This sharp fella' was excited when his mom got him the apron and chef hat. 
Here he is glazing ham and looks forward to help out with more cooking.

Photo Credit: F.M.

My son Etienne wrapping a family-favourite Chinese wonton dumplings. The first few were a bit wonky but I think he mastered the technique after his 20th dumpling :)

Shaking up homemade salad dressing and fun on Food Revolution Day 2014!

Making Jamie's champion Food Rev wrap Rainbow Salad Wrap.

My sister's three boys love to help in the kitchen. They wash their fruits and enjoy peeling vegetables. Measuring, adding spices, stirring, cracking eggs...and they are especially happy when they get a chance to use the rolling pin. Here they are taking turns filling raspberry jam centres for the raspberry shortbread thumbprint cookies.

Fun and creative DIY pizzas with a buffet of toppings for my nephew Jerome's birthday last weekend.

Pizzas made on foccacia bun halves for a different crust- YUM!

My fellow ambassador Mardi Michels held a hands-on kids cooking community event late February as part of our Food Revolution Community activities here in Toronto. 21 mums, dads and kids came and cooked Jamie Oliver's rainbow wraps, super smoothies (4 kinds!) and veggie soup! 

Photo Credit: Frank Yao

Photo Credit: Linda Matarasso

My friend Frank and his son Aiden attended. What a lovely pair and pear. :)
Photo Credit: Frank Yao

Aiden grating beets and a lovely girl shredding carrots to make a veggie filling for the rainbow wrap. Ambassador Carol Harrison tweeted "this little fellow loves @jamieoliver's Rainbow Wraps but thinks next time he'll add more vinegar!" So cute!

Photo Credit: Frank Yao

Lots of fresh basil for all to feel, smell and taste!

Green smoothie packed with nutrition and deliciousness! Aiden gave it the thumbs up! Frank tells me he and Aiden had an amazing time! "The ladies were so great. They were patient with the kids, and they talked to them without talking down to them, even when providing tips and instructions. Before we were out the door, Aiden was asking when we could go grocery shopping because he wanted to make all the smoothies at home." Great stuff- just what we love to hear!

Photo Credit: Frank Yao

Sign up your kids for cooking classes. The City of Toronto offers many affordable community kids cooking classes that can be found in their Fun Guide. Or better yet, organize a hands-on cooking class for your kids and their friends. I hosted a class during the March break so my kids could reconnect with old friends making lunch and a snack together. One of the key things I wanted the kids to experience was how to use their five senses to examine and taste the ingredients such as fresh herbs and veggies in front of them, and together, we could customize our lunch items. What a successful fun-filled day that you can pull together too! 

One mom had this to say after, "my son loved it! And he loved the idea of cooking. He made (with some help using the oven) soya salmon baked in the oven for dinner on Saturday! He decided that he would come up with his own recipe - soya sauce, garlic powder, chicken broth and maple syrup, and it was really good! I'm planning a small herb garden on our back deck this year, so maybe that will also allow the kids to discover more out the ingredients available to them!" I absolutely love hearing these testimonials from parents!

It's been proven, that kids enjoy cooking given the chance. Throw caution in the wind, let it go and let your kids cook with you. Before you know it, they will be trying new foods, getting creative and helping to bring a positive and healthy attitude to the family table. I will never forget when my oldest son said to me over dinner, "We are master eaters right mom, because we love your cooking?" Everyone wins!

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