Children's Food Expert says now is a good opportunity to get our children cooking to help them explore and learn about new and different foods
So how's lockdown going with keeping the kids entertained for hours on end, while simultaneously keeping them fit, healthy and educated?
It has been a daunting task, yet many parents having been dealing with isolation with kids like a pro by coming up with a host of creative daily activities as ways of keeping the family entertained.
However, if you are running out of ways to keep your children busy as the weeks of lockdown roll on, fear not.
What better way to kill time than cooking with your children? Now could be just the perfect time to teach them some healthy cooking skills.
Aisling Larkin, a children's feeding expert, mindful eating coach and tv chef, believes that now could be just the perfect time for parents to teach their children some healthy cooking skills.
She is an advocate of safefood’s 101 square meal recipes, which offers variety for every age and circumstance, resulting in healthier, more balanced diets for individuals and families within a realistic budget.
Aisling says: “Inspiring our children to get involved in cooking at home can teach them about new and different foods and help them develop the necessary skills to plan and cook healthy meals through to adulthood.
“It’s never too late, or too early, to get your kids helping in the kitchen and helping to cook a basic healthy meal, using everyday ingredients.
“Although it requires time and patience, the benefits of cooking with your kids are totally worth it. Cooking is a valuable life skill that teaches children about nutrition and food safety, as well as building math, science, literacy and fine motor skills.
Aisling is a busy working mum to three children, two girls and a boy, and is one of Ireland’s leading children's food experts. She regularly contributes to live tv shows, radio interviews, podcasts and various forms of digital and print media sharing their expertise and advice on areas of family feeding and mindful eating.
She adds: “A kitchen is a great place for parents to spend quality time with their children, or for siblings to work together and be proud of the result. And when you and your children are done, you should have something delicious to eat.”
“It also allows our children to see, smell, touch and just be exposed to a variety of new foods. This can help them develop an adventurous palette as those who have been involved in the cooking process are generally more keen to try new foods.”
“By making these small behavioural changes and getting our children actively involved in the kitchen, we can start to slowly to integrate them without our weekly habits, so that they become sustainable new activities for our children to enjoy in the future.”
Here is Aisling’s top tips for getting your children involved in cooking simple and healthy meals at home:
It’s never going to perfect
Let go of that perfectionism when it comes to cooking the perfect dish. Let the kids take the lead, give them time, be patient with them and let them make mistakes. Nobody gets it right the first time, not even us parents. Allowing your children to have fun and starting the learning process around food is way more important than the perfect omelette or macaroni and cheese.
Embrace the mess
Cooking isn’t going to be a calm and mishap free experience. All kids make a mess, no matter what age they are. Therefore, it is highly likely your cooking session is going to end up in a mess. Accept this, but take it as an opportunity to teach them fundamental life skills like cleaning up as they go
Get them tasting a variety of foods
Try and break down your children’s barriers for tasting foods. Encourage children to taste new food and if they do not like it that’s OK. Allow them to politely spit it out into a napkin. This does not mean they will never like this food it simply means they don’t like it this time. Repeated exposure in a variety of ways is the key to getting them to accept a variety of foods.
Stick to a simple recipe
Stick to simple recipes that you think your kids will want to help with. Look for recipes that are delicious and tasty for them, easy and quick, but also fun. Let the kids help choose which one they want to cook and get them involved in planning the meal together by looking through the cupboards, fridge and freezer for the ingredients, set up the work area and even simple aspects like setting the table. Allowing them to achieve success from early on is key here. It builds their self-confidence and self-belief and all that positive reinforcement will encourage them to come back and try more recipes. This way they take a sense of ownership and don’t get fed up and disappear off before its time for the cleanup.
Get them helping with little tasks first
People often ask when a child should start to cook. There is no exact age for starting but generally children should be encouraged to become involved with basic food preparation skills. Let them do small tasks like whisking eggs or adding dry ingredients when they’re very young, then working up to measuring ingredients and kneading dough when they’re a little older.
Be patient with your kids as they agonise over carefully chopping an onion or painstakingly grating the cheese. We all had to start somewhere, so resist the urge to do it for them. They will never learn if you don’t let try them try it for themselves. Just factor in extra time when making your recipe.
Keep things safe
Try and encourage your child to practice safe and hygienic food preparation from an early age. It is important to reinforce kitchen and food safety to children of all ages. Encourage them to practice good habits, like hand washing & correct food storage from the start.
Most of all, enjoy and have fun with kids in the kitchen. There will be spills and foods dropped, but that’s part of the experience for kids. Over time, the skills learnt and fun that they had will foster a healthy interest in food and leave everyone with lasting memories.
So go on, what are you waiting for?
Visit www.makeastart.org for more practical advice and help.