Frozen fruits and frozen vegetables are good for you!
They are just as nutritious as fresh produce, and may sometimes be even a little more nutritious!
Because fruits and/or vegetables are processed (washed, cut, and frozen) very soon after being harvested, their freshness is “frozen” in place at just-picked quality! This can include ripeness (as they don’t have to be picked early to prevent spoilage on the way to the customer) and nutrition. Here’s how the process works:
Why are frozen vegetables and fruits are sometimes higher in nutrition than fresh ones?
Some vitamins and antioxidants degrade over time. Freezing a fruit or vegetable stops or really really slows down this process, so the vitamin content of frozen produce might be higher than one that has been sitting in the produce section (or in your fridge drawer) for a few days.
(This is not to say that fresh vegetables or fruit are devoid of nutrition if you don’t eat them right out of the ground or off the tree – it is only a very small portion that degrades. I just like to illustrate that you aren’t missing any nutrition by eating frozen produce)
Besides excellent nutrition, think of the other benefits of frozen produce!
No washing, chopping, slicing, peeling, needed – ready to use!
Most plain frozen fruits and vegetable products are just that – frozen fruits and vegetables. They don’t contain any added salt, sugar, fat, or preservatives! (You can always check the ingredients list if you want to make sure)
Sometimes they are more affordable than fresh, especially if it is a seasonal item (like strawberries or peaches) or one that does not grow where you live
Some vegetables are even packaged in a bag you can microwave directly so you don’t even have to get another dish dirty! (This is easy and pretty safe and a great way to get kids helping – just be careful with the hot package when it’s done!)
Some ways to use frozen produce besides steaming or making smoothies
Add frozen fruit to baked goods – blueberry muffins anytime 😀
Top a cereal or yogurt with frozen fruit
Cook frozen fruit with a few spoons of sugar to make a syrup that you can use on whatever you like!
Add frozen vegetables into the last few minutes boiling pasta to get an extra serving of veggies
Add frozen vegetables to a soup – again you can just throw them in the last few minutes
Look. I’m tired today, so we’re going to talk about something that I had actually planned in advance, but is appropriate for a day when you are tired and don’t feel like cooking or maybe don’t even feel like eating a meal:
How to make a meal out of snacks.
The fancy version of this is charcuterie. Or a smorgasbord. Although I recently looked up what a real Swedish smörgåsbord is, and apparently it includes 7 courses and must include herring and I don’t know if I’ve ever even had herring.
Anyway, you can have snacky meals that look like this:
But they can also look like this:
They can be fancy, but they don’t have to be. Most of the time when I eat a snacky meal, it’s because I’m already tired or too hungry to cook, so putting in the work to make it fancy would defeat the purpose.
The snacky “meal” I’m writing about today is assembling a meal out of things you already have on hand, or can prepare quickly and easily (like washing grapes, cutting up cheese, or baking some frozen sausage cheese puffs)
What are the ingredients?
Ideally, a snacky meal contains at least 1 fruit and/or vegetable, at least one protein food, and at least one starch.
This can definitely be modified, but the dietitian here recommends you get all your food groups (or at least 3 out of the 4).
What do you have in the fridge/freezer/cabinets that can fit in each of those categories? See some examples below
All of my examples here are finger food, but they don’t necessarily have to be – this is a great time to bring in leftovers.
As you can see, we often eat cheese for our protein – but you can use whatever you prefer and generally have on hand: hard boiled eggs, jerky, tuna salad, leftover chicken, salami, sliced lunch meat, nuts or seeds or trail mix, yogurt, leftover meatballs, fish sticks, chicken nuggets, hummus, leftover lentil or bean salad
Best if you can include both a fruit and a vegetable – or even a variety of both, but again, the idea is to pull from what you already have, not make more work for yourself. This is a great time to pull out leftover vegetables, the bag of baby carrots, the end of the salad greens that need to be eaten, those random olives or pickles that you always forget about and the bag of grapes that nobody is eating because they’re in the fridge and not on the counter. Don’t forget about dried fruits! No prep needed for those and I know mine often get neglected as they are hidden in a cabinet.
Starches are often prevalent in pantries and readily available for snacky dinners: crackers, bread, chips, pretzels, tortillas, etc. Don’t forget about leftovers – leftover pasta, potatoes, waffles – you might come up with some odd combinations, but the bottom line is – you’re being nourished!
This is a perfectly fine way to have a meal. Kids (especially young kids) often love eating this way because there are a lot of finger foods involved, they feel like they have more choice, and there are often a lot of familiar foods offered.
It may also be helpful for adults who are struggling with poor appetite, low energy, or low motivation to make sure they are getting the nutrition they need.
What do you think? Have you ever had a snacky meal before? What type of foods do you like to include?
My New Year’s Resolution is to start writing titles that sound like Dr. Seuss books.
Haha not really.
I know there will be approximately 70,000 blog posts or articles about making New Year’s resolutions and why you should or shouldn’t, etc. I’m not here to convince you about whether you should make a resolution or not.
What I do know is that the beginning of a new year causes lots of people to think about goals and aspirations. And a lot of those goals will be related to nutrition, so I’m here to tell you what I know about nutrition goals.
Nutrition goals are hard.
Changing anything is hard. If you’re trying to start doing something that you’re not used to doing, it’s going to be hard. If you’re trying to stop doing something you’re used to doing, it’s going to be hard. It’s just the nature of making changes.
There are surely psychological and behavioral studies that will explain the how and why it’s hard, but look – you probably know that from experience. I know it from my own experience and from the experience of working with probably thousands of people trying to make nutrition changes.
So here’s two things I want you to remember:
Choose 1 or 2 small things that you are confident you can do. And by confident I mean, you are like 95% sure that you will do it. (I know I said not 2 in the title, but it just rhymed, just don’t choose too many) Something that even seems a little bit too easy is fine, especially if you are just starting this change.
If you have a big goal like “eat healthier” or “lower my cholesterol” or “cook at home more” or “run a 5k” – that’s good! You set those big goals as your end game and use them to decide what your small goals are.
Choose small goals that will move you toward your big goal.
Eat healthier -> eat a fruit with breakfast every day
Lower my cholesterol -> find a whole grain bread you like to eat instead of white bread
Run a 5k -> Commit to walking 10 minutes 3 days per week
Making these small goals gives you a hit of accomplishment along the way, before you make it to that long term goal. Kind of like a save point in a video game. This gives you more confidence and motivation to make new goals (a cycle of accomplishment) instead of making large unrealistic goals and feeling bad when you don’t reach them (a cycle of defeat)
Remember what I said just a few paragraphs ago? Making changes is hard. So give yourself credit when you’ve made a change, even if it’s a small one!
Did you hear that?
Give yourself credit for making even a small change!
If you eat a fruit with breakfast most days when you didn’t before, or you now cook two meals at home per week instead of one – good for you! You made a change! You are progressing in the direction you want to go.
If you’ve made progress – you eat more veggies, you drink less soda, you walk more often than you used to – give yourself a sticker*, or a pat on the back, or a little dance in your kitchen, whatever helps you celebrate
*The stickers thing is working for me right now. It gives me a small bit of childlike delight when I can mark that I exercised or completed a blog post with a pretty sticker hehehe
Then take that celebration energy and decide the next change you want to make!
Sometimes knowing what small steps to start with can be difficult – this is where a professional can be helpful. A good dietitian (or other professional if your goal isn’t nutrition related), can help you figure out the first steps to take to reach your big goal.
Hope you get to enjoy some festive and special foods today and tomorrow! (Or some tasty foods regardless of whether you celebrate Christmas)
Also on my heart this year are those who don’t have access to enough healthy and nourishing foods. Recently, I have been learning more about how complicated and widespread this problem is as well as how much it can impact people’s health. I’m also seeing it firsthand in my work. While there is a lot of big work to be done and nothing will be solved tomorrow, these are some organizations that are working hard to get more good food to more people who need it.
No Kid Hungry – they work in different channels, including school meals, nutrition education, and public policy to make sure kids get fed. (It’s a sister organization to Cooking Matters which provides free culinary and nutrition education to families to get the most out of their food budget. I have volunteered with them before and they are awesome, but in the current season limited in their ability to do cooking classes right now due to safety and health guidelines.)
Project Angel Heart or God’s Love We Deliver – both are organizations that provide free, medically-tailored meals to those who have life-changing diseases and can’t afford or have trouble preparing the type of foods they need. The meals they provide greatly improve the health of the recipients – if you like to see measurable results, both of these organizations have encouraging statistics about their work you can read on their website!
Samaritan’s Purse – provides international disaster relief, some of which includes providing food in various forms – supplies for refugees, hot meals to children, or farming or business assistance so poor families can more effectively provide for themselves and escape the cycle of poverty
These are just a few of the organizations working in this area. If you know of another one, feel free to share in the comments! If this is a cause that touches your heart, please consider donating your time, skills, or money.
If you need help with having enough food for yourself or your family, this page has a lot of great resources, and in the U.S., you can always call 2-1-1 to speak with someone who can help connect you with local community services!
My grandma always made this type of applesauce for Christmas breakfast. We’d have it alongside buttery biscuits, cranberry orange bread, eggs, and bacon for everyone else (not a fan, personally). It’s so chunky, cinnamonny, and sweet, it’s basically apple pie filling.
She would always make a big pot, so there would be leftovers for future breakfasts and lunches too.
Hey, if you like to do a ham or roast for Christmas dinner, this would be a great side for that too. I had it with some roast beef for lunch today!
This recipe is made even easier because you don’t even peel the apples. My grandpa maintains that this is the only real kind of applesauce, any other kind is “babyfood”.
Certainly if you want to peel your apples you can, but leaving them on is less work and nearly twice the fiber!
Coffee has no sugar, fat, calories, carbohydrates, sodium, gluten or dairy
All that stuff everyone is worried about these days? Coffee doesn’t have it. No need to worry.
(Coffee has a tiny amount of calories and sodium but one 8-oz cup of black coffee will have at the most 5 calories and 5mg sodium which is honestly not even worth counting)
Coffee contains antioxidants
Why are antioxidants good? All the time, molecules in our cells are becoming damaged through oxidation from our own metabolic processes, radiation, the sun, various chemicals. This damage (when it is accumulated) can lead to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, aging, etc. Antioxidants protect against this damage.
Coffee has been studied a lot and the consensus is it’s mostly fine and might actually be good.
There are some studies showing that people who drink coffee have certain diseases more often, but there are way more studies showing that people who drink coffee have no more risk of disease than people who don’t drink coffee, and some studies that show that people who drink coffee have a lower chance of getting certain diseases (like type 2 diabetes and Parkinson’s disease)
It’s important to remember that correlation does not equal causation. These studies were done in people who all had different lifestyles, family histories, diets, smoking and exercise habits, etc., so while researchers try to make sure they are only looking at the effect of coffee, they can’t say for sure that coffee was the thing making the difference in who got diseases and who didn’t.
Depending on how you take your coffee, it might enhance your nutrition
If you add milk (or a fortified alternative milk) to your coffee, you will get some calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin A! And depending on what type of milk it is, some protein, fat, and carbs – not enough for a meal of course, but maybe enough for a snack.
This of course can be a double-edged sword. If your preferred regular coffee format includes a lot of sugar and high fat ingredients, the benefits of drinking a lot of coffee might be outweighed by the drawbacks of drinking a lot of sugar and fat. Not that you shouldn’t enjoy cream, sugar, or flavored syrup in your coffee, just take the nutrition they provide into account.
Some nuance about coffee
Like anything, too much coffee can be harmful, and just drinking a ton of coffee will not magically make you super healthy. There are some people who should be cautious with coffee (e.g. pregnant women) and I mean, definitely don’t drink it if it makes you feel bad or interferes with your sleep or makes you anxious.
Many of the harmful effects were associated with more extreme amounts of coffee. Coffee made as espresso, French press, or boiled can slightly raise cholesterol when drunk in large amounts.
The bottom line: coffee, in moderation, is pretty harmless and might have benefits.
If you don’t like coffee, don’t feel like you need to start drinking it for the health benefits.
If you do like coffee, enjoy it and feel good about it!
Find an appropriately sized container for leftovers
Count out ingredients
Play with non-breakable bowls and spoons
When I was a toddler, my mom had one low cabinet that had the metal mixing bowls and pots that I was allowed to play with and I totally thought a two piece bundt/angel food cake pan (like this one) would make a great snowman costume if I put the pointy part on my head like a top hat and wore the round part around my neck as a…scarf? I’m not sure what I was thinking. But I definitely got stuck in the round part and panicked and my mom had to help me get out and it’s one of my earliest memories
Suggest a meal or side dish
Choose a meal or side dish
Look through a cookbook or cooking magazine together and choose some recipes to try
Choose a recipe from a cooking show to try (even if it is just used as an inspiration)
Follow a video tutorial together
Some limited physical coordination required
Many of these tasks can be done by very small toddlers who have an adult helper. Very small kids probably won’t be able to complete the task by themselves, but they will be able to participate, which is the important part. Check out the ADORABLE Chef Kobe here for some visual proof that toddlers can do these types of tasks
Sprinkle toppings on a salad
Sprinkle cheese or breadcrumb topping
Rinse lettuce leaves
Add pre-measured ingredients to a mixture
Mix spice mixtures/sauces/batters
Put ingredients in a pot to cook
Collect bowls/measuring cups/measuring spoons
Move dirty dishes from the table to the counter or dishwasher
Get out toppings/condiments and put them on the table
Mash potatoes, bananas, or squash
Shake a jar or container of dressing or seasonings to mix it (just make sure it is fully closed!)
Throw skins/peels/package wrappers in a garbage bowl, trash, or compost bin
Carry dirty dishes to the counter/sink/dishwasher
Wipe off a table or a counter
Toss veggies in oil and seasonings by shaking them in a closed container
Cut out dough with cookie cutters
Decorate cookies with sprinkles/frosting
Top pizzas with cheese and toppings
Somewhat higher coordination or level of strength required
Will still require an adult supervisor and possibly an adult helper
Help put away groceries
Find and collect ingredients as you read them from the recipe
Put away ingredients as they are used
Remove husk and silk from corn on the cob
Pull garlic cloves from a head of garlic
Peel garlic cloves that have been smashed
Use a garlic press to press garlic
Use a measuring cup or pitcher to add water to a pot
Press buttons on a mixer, blender, or food processor
Crush nuts or bread crumbs in a plastic bag with a rolling pin, pot, fists, or Hulk hands if you want to make it extra fun
Put plates, cups, silverware, and/or napkins on the table
Peel an orange or banana
Use a lettuce spinner to dry lettuce
Dry lettuce by spinning it in a towel or mesh bag
Tear up lettuce leaves
Toss a salad
Toss veggies in oil and seasonings for roasting using a bowl and spoon/fork
Use a cookie scoop to portion out cookies/biscuits/meatballs
Shape meatballs, rolls or other doughs
Turn on slow cooker
Peel an onion that has been cut in halves or quarters
Put spreads on bread or toast
Put dirty dishes in the dishwasher or sink or on the counter
Reading skills required
Preheat the oven
Read recipe out loud
Read the ingredients list out loud
Find a recipe
Write ingredients on a grocery list
Search for and add foods to an online grocery order
Read the grocery list and cross items off the list as they are bought
Follow directions to prepare microwave food
Write and decorate a menu (although, they can just decorate a menu and “write” if they don’t actually know how to write. No one actually needs to read it 😊)
Find a recipe that they want to try in a cookbook
Search for and find a recipe to make online
Follow a simple recipe
Sharp safety skills required
Use your best judgment as a parent
Use scissors to cut fresh herbs
Use scissors to cut pizza or quesadilla that has cooled
Use an egg slicer
Use a cheese slicer
Use an egg slicer to cut strawberries
Wash and cut grape bunches with scissors
Put vegetables/meat on skewers
Add ingredients to a food processor or blender
Press the buttons on a food processor or blender
Kids can start to learn knife skills earlier than you might think! Here are two really great resources on how to start helping kids use knives safely and in an age-appropriate way (superhealthykids.com and happykidskitchen.com/) Might as well start teaching them safe skills early! (Besides, the earlier they learn, the earlier they can help!)
Chop lettuce with a lettuce knife
Chop soft vegetables or fruits (banana, cucumber, zucchini)
Chop dough (to section for rolls)
Chop or slice vegetables
Heat safety required
Steam frozen veggies in the microwave and then season
Make a microwaveable food
Stir a pot or pan
Add ingredients to a pot or pan on the stove
Follow a simple recipe that involves using the oven or stove
Please note that these are ideas meant to empower you to involve your kids in the cooking process. You are the one who best knows your child’s abilities. Use your best judgement to choose activities that will be appropriate for your child. Please make sure you supervise your children during these activities, especially those that involve heat or sharp blades!
Taste and smell. We could just be like plants and photosynthesize but instead we get to enjoy the experience of eating.
Variety and adaptability. We could just be like cows and just eat grass, or whales and just eat plankton. Our bodies are designed to be able to run on a wide variety of food sources. This not only means that we can enjoy a variety of foods, it means that a healthy diet can look different for different people and different cultures! There are so many delicious ways to be nourished!
I’m privileged to be able to access a really wide variety of healthy, safe, and fresh food.
I do not have any food allergies, sensitivities or medical conditions that keep me from eating certain foods. As much as I like to promote that all foods fit, I realize in some cases not all foods fit because they cause an allergic reaction or pain or dangerous medical consequences. I’m thankful that at this point in my life, I do not have to avoid any foods and can eat cheese without any problems.
This thin crust pizza recipe. (see below) We eat this pizza at least once a month, often when we don’t want to cook anything else and it is always a bright spot.
Pour 3/4 cup body temperature water into a medium-large bowl. Add 1 tsp yeast and let that sit for a little bit, until you can smell the yeast. Stir in 1 cup flour, then add 1 + 1/2 tsp salt. Then add 1 cup more flour and stir until you can’t stir anymore. Then either knead in the bowl or on a clean floured counter. (You can also use a stand mixer with a dough hook). Knead 8-10 minutes or until the dough springs back when pinched. I know that sounds like a lot of time, but I just turn on the Great British Baking Show and pretend I’m on the show with them.
Spray a little nonstick spray in the bottom of the bowl (or pour a teensy bit of oil) and roll the dough ball around in it – this is just so it doesn’t stick or dry out while it rises. Cover with a clean towel and let rise for about an hour.
(You can freeze it at this point to be able to treat your future self to homemade pizza)
Preheat the oven to 500 F. Roll out the dough on a silicon mat or parchment paper until it is 1/4 inch or less thick. Place the rolled out dough and the lining onto a cookie sheet (I like to use the back of a rimmed baking tray). Spread on your sauce and toppings of choice. Avoid topping very thickly or the crust will not get crisp. Bake for 8-15 minutes or until the bottom is crisp (check by lifting with a spatula).
You can use either white or whole wheat flour for this recipe. You can even make it without the rising time if you are in a hurry – just let it rest for a few minutes instead of an hour and roll it out right away. Enjoy!
What are you thankful for?
*Coffee is good for you just as much as any food that has shown to be good for you. Coffee in moderation, in general, is not harmful, and there are multiple studies showing health benefits in regular coffee drinkers. Obviously there are exceptions and nuances (like: drinking coffee won’t solve all your problems, and if you also drink it with a TON of sugar it is probably not as healthy) so speak with a doctor or dietitian if you have questions or concerns and don’t drink coffee if it makes you feel bad.
Today we’re talking canned pumpkin puree (and then pumpkin pie).
The type of pumpkin that is usually used to make pumpkin pie and other pumpkin goodies. (Note that this is about plain canned pumpkin, not canned pie filling. There’s nothing wrong with canned pie filling, it’s just not the same nutritionally as it already has sugars and spices mixed in)
First of all, pumpkin is a vegetable.
No one would argue about butternut squash being a vegetable, right? Pumpkin is very close nutritionally to butternut squash. It goes in the red-orange vegetable group with carrots, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes. You can totally count pumpkin as part of your vegetable intake for the day. Now, the general amount of vegetables that the USDA recommends eating per day is 2 1/2 cups, so unless you’re sitting down to eat a big can of pumpkin, it won’t take care of all of your veggie intake, but it can certainly be part of it.
Pumpkin provides some impressive nutrition
The way canned pumpkin is processed means that some of the water has been taken out (via cooking) so its nutrients are concentrated!
1/2 cup of cooked pumpkin has:
3.5g of fiber (10% of the recommended daily amount for men and nearly 15% of the daily recommendation for women) – helps manage cholesterol and blood sugar, feeds good bacteria in our intestines, promotes regular bowel movements, helps us feel full
nearly 10% of the daily recommended amount of iron – vital for oxygenation of the blood
25% of the recommended amount of vitamin K – important for blood clotting
over 350% recommended daily amount of vitamin A (no, that is not a typo, it is super high in vitamin A) – acts as an antioxidant, important for skin and immune health, important for healthy vision
Most of us probably will not just sit down and eat 1/2 cup of plain canned pumpkin by itself. So how much of that good nutrition will you get in a slice of pumpkin pie? Well, of course it depends on the the recipe and the size of the slice.
Let’s take Libby’s recipe for example (that’s the recipe on the back of the Libby’s pumpkin can). And we’ll say that we cut the pie into 8 slices because that’s easy math. In each slice, there will be about 1/4 cup of canned pumpkin (half the amount we calculated before), so it will have:
1.8g fiber (about 5% of the recommended daily amount for men and 7% for women)
Nearly 5% of the daily recommended amount of iron
Over 10% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin K
and 190% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin A
Some of those amounts might seem small, but realistically, this is the way most people get nutrients from food. Small amounts from different foods that add up during the day. For comparison’s sake, one serving of Benefiber Original has 3 g of fiber, which is about 8% of the recommended daily value for men and 12% of the recommended daily value for women.
And it certainly has more vitamin A, iron, and fiber than many other desserts, like angel food cake or brownies.
Now of course, we must acknowledge that eating a slice of pumpkin pie (with ice cream or whipped cream perhaps too) also comes with more sugar, salt, and fats than just plain pumpkin, so if these are nutrients that you need to limit for a health condition, take those into account.
(and regardless, probably don’t make pumpkin pie the only way you eat vegetables)
However, a pumpkin pie having fats, sugar, and salt, doesn’t mean that you won’t get benefit from the fiber, iron, vitamin K, or massive amounts of vitamin A. You may also get extra calcium if the pie is made with evaporated milk, and extra fiber and/or B-vitamins if the crust is made with whole wheat flour
The bottom line: If you like pumpkin pie, enjoy it! (And know you’re getting a decent amount of fiber, iron, vitamin K, and a super amount of vitamin A!)
Imagine having your children by your side in the kitchen. You read the recipe out loud and they find the ingredients in the pantry. You show them how to carefully measure out ingredients. They stir the ingredients together, remarking about how good it will taste. Then you put it in the oven and you both excitedly clean up the kitchen waiting for it to be done. Then you laugh together as you eat. A picture-perfect scene.
It can happen. But let’s be real, sometimes it looks like this:
. . . like your toddler pulling snacks out of the pantry while you try to get them to stop so you can just get the ingredients you need. It looks like them dumping the ingredients into the bowl so enthusiastically that half of it lands on the table. It looks like your two kids fighting over whose turn it is to stir. It looks like you’re stressed because you’re trying to make this a positive experience, but your kid just licked their finger to taste the batter and then started stirring the sauce with their hand and the other kid keeps trying to touch the stove. Sometimes it looks like your kids not being at all interested in helping cook. It’s not always the warm happy Pillsbury crescent commercial. That’s for sure.
It’s often more work to have your kids “help” in the kitchen.
So why is it worth it? And how can you make it easier?
Why it’s worth it:
Kids who help with food preparation are more likely to try new foodsand eat more vegetables Research shows that helping to prepare a meal makes kids more likely to try new foods (1), more positive about unfamiliar foods (1), more likely to eat more vegetables (2), and more likely to eat more of the meal in general (2).
If kids are involved in the making process, they feel ownership and pride over the meal, so of course they want to try it and are biased toward liking it. Plus, they get to experience the food in an environment where there is no pressure to eat it. This can make new or disliked foods less intimidating. This does not mean they will magically like everything, but it will probably surprise you how much more likely they are to try something that they helped prepare.
If you have particular or picky eaters, this can be one way to help them be more comfortable in exploring new foods. If you’re worried that your kids don’t like “healthy” foods and only like beige and white foods, this is normal, BUT involving them in cooking can help expand their palate.
Kids who practice cooking are more confident in their cooking skills and are more likely to make healthy choices(3) The more kids cook, the more kids handle food, the more kids practice good food hygiene, the more comfortable and confident they are in their ability, and the more positive they feel around food(3). This seems pretty obvious. However, having confidence around food and cooking is a huge advantage toward choosing and eating healthy foods. It removes the barrier of not knowing how to prepare a food. And even if they don’t know how to prepare a specific food, they are more likely to feel confident that they can learn how. People who know how to cook and feel confident in this are more likely to choose and prepare healthy foods (3).
Practicing cooking and food skills doesn’t need to be learning how to julienne vegetables, sautee meat, or make a roux. It includes things like picking out foods at the store, washing vegetables, following a recipe, loading a dishwasher, measuring ingredients, learning what a spatula is, and using a microwave. It can of course include fancier skills as well, but you don’t have to and shouldn’t start there.
By helping your kids have food literacy, you are equipping them with vital tools they can use to be healthy which leads to the next point:
Cooking helps improve self-confidence and independence. Do you remember the first time you made a recipe all by yourself? My first memory of this is making the Kraft boxed mac and cheese. I was so proud! A kid helping with dinner feels like they are a contributing part of the family. As they get more comfortable with a skill and learn new skills, they gain confidence and independence.
This helps them grow in confidence while they still live with you, and equips them for when they are on their own as adults. Interestingly kids in a focus group about cooking at home counted learning cooking skills as a valuable part of helping in the kitchen, because they knew would need to be able to cook later in life (4). Future cooking skills is one thing at least on some kids’ minds.
Also, with enough practice, kids will eventually be actually helpful in the kitchen! It’s a long term investment – but it can pay off.
So, why is it worth it? Because even though it will be slow and difficult and stressful at times, you’re equipping them with really valuable life skills: not just cooking, but exploring new and different foods, the ability to choose and prepare healthy foods, and the confidence builder of mastering new things.
So, how can I make it easier? (and not want to shut everyone out of the kitchen forever)
I could talk forever about this because introducing kids to the kitchen is what I loooove to do. But here are a few ideas to start out:
Choose the right time. Don’t try this at a time when everyone is cranky and hungry and/or rushed. Choose a time when you can give your full attention and have no time pressure.
Make breakfast on a quiet weekend, do some prep work with them when they come to you bored (read the recipe and collect the non-refrigerated ingredients, wash and tear up lettuce leaves, mix spices, bake some rolls or biscuits), choose one afternoon a week when one kid goes down for a nap or is at school so you can focus on one child at a time, etc.
Start with hand washing This should always be the start of any cooking session. It teaches food safety and hygiene right from the start and can make them feel like they are really cooking (because everyone, even a chef, needs to wash hands before cooking). Be sure to model this behavior as well as speaking about it 🙂
Use an easy recipe you are really comfortable with. Don’t make it harder on yourself by trying to involve kids with a new or tricky recipe that requires brain space. This might mean that they help you make box macaroni and cheese – this is perfectly fine! After washing hands, and before you start, read the recipe out loud together. This is a good cooking practice to establish and it makes sure you know what you’re doing, and depending on the age of the kids, helps them get a big picture as well.
Start small. It may be overwhelming and taxing for you and your kids to expect them to help you with a whole recipe or a whole meal, especially if they are small. Involving them in meal preparation can start with as little as having them put silverware on the table, having them help you wash vegetables, helping you get out ingredients, or having them shuck an ear of corn.
In the mac and cheese example, this could be that they get to use a measuring cup to help fill up the water to boil or dump in the cheese packet. Keeping it short at first makes it a positive experience even with a short attention span. Obviously if they want to keep helping, that’s great, but if not you can build up little by little.
Repeat Kids thrive on routine. If you have a weekly repeating meal (Taco Tuesday, Pizza Friday, etc.) this is a great time to involve them because you and they know what to expect and you will both get lots of practice making it together. Kids can get familiar with the steps and gradually grow in their abilities.
My earliest memories of cooking are making pancakes or waffles on Saturday mornings with my dad. I grew from helping him mix to proudly learning how to flip pancakes (this was over a matter of years, I was not a preschool pancake flipping prodigy)
Narrate If they’re with you in the kitchen (even if they’re not actively helping), just talk about what you’re doing like you’re on a cooking show. If they ask questions, answer them. Offer to let them help with a specific task or to let them taste or smell an ingredient. You can also talk about where the recipe is from or tell a story related to the recipe.
Let them help you pick what to make This is especially good if you need help getting your kids interested in the first place. With your guidance, kids (especially older kids), can help choose foods to make. Use cookbooks, or magazines, Yummly, or Pinterest to find a recipe that looks interesting to them. Sources with pictures are really great, because we eat with our eyes, and for a kid not familiar with many foods or cooking techniques, it may be hard to image what a food would be like from just a text recipe. Start with a category that you choose (soup, breakfast, broccoli, chicken, etc.) to narrow down options and make sure you aren’t always making desserts or pizza rolls.
Have them help with clean up It is good for them to learn to clean as they go and really good for you to have them clean as they go. You can start small with this too. Kids can help put wrappers or food scraps in the trash (you can also use a garbage bowl on the table to reduce trips to the trash can), they can put dirty dishes in the sink or dishwasher, help put ingredients away, and wipe off a table when they are done.
This obviously isn’t comprehensive. How you involve your kids in cooking will depend on them and you and that’s fine! But I hope these ideas provide some comfortable ways to get started and some encouragement to keep going if you already have.
If you are you reading this and going, wait, I don’t even feel comfortable in the kitchen myself. How can I teach my kids? I don’t feel confident in my ability to prepare balanced and meals, but I want to, and want my kids to have that ability. I wish I just had somebody who would just walk me through the process, make it a little less overwhelming, who could be my coach and cheerleader
That’s me! I can do that! I would love to work with you at your current level of cooking/food comfort to develop a tool kit of meals, skills, recipes, so you can feel confident in the kitchen and pass that along to your kids. If this sounds like something you want, learn more here