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Bringing Balance: Kids in the Kitchen

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March is Nutrition Month, and this year’s theme is “Kids in the Kitchen”, a topic near and dear to my heart. I help families working to improve the quality of their food get back in their kitchens and develop practical strategies and habits to allow them to eat more real food. The problem with our increasingly processed & convenient industrial food system is that our kids are rarely in the kitchen. The next generation is not being educated about the importance of real food or basic food preparation & cooking skills, leaving them with no choice but to continue to rely on processed, low-nutrient food when they leave the home. This of course puts them at a much greater risk for obesity and in turn an increased risk of many chronic illnesses, including Type II diabetes and heart disease.

Changing the patterns when your children are young, getting your family back in the kitchen and turning it into a “classroom” of sorts is the key to raising healthy, confident eaters and cooks, and it’s not nearly as hard to do as you might think. Here are some of my best tips for getting started:

Start young: As soon as your toddlers can safely sit on a chair at the table, or stand on one by the sink, get them involved in basic food prep, like washing produce, stirring, measuring or peeling with a dull peeler. As they get older, gradually increase their responsibility, getting them to follow a simple recipe on their own from start to finish, and helping with family meal planning. Teach them how to use the stovetop and oven safely and proper cutting, shredding and grating techniques. Eventually, your children can be responsible for planning & cooking a healthy meal every week.

Keep it fun: A few cool accessories can go a long way to getting & keeping kids in the kitchen: A fun apron, their own colourful measuring spoons, or a personalized binder for their own collection of healthy recipes can get them excited & motivated to get cooking.kidrecipe

Keep it simple: Start with easy, safe recipes like smoothies, homemade pita pizzas, kale chips, soups, easy baking or salad dressings that kids can shake up in a jar.

Take it out of the kitchen: A real food education starts at the market or grocery store, and can also start very young. Toddlers can help find items on the shelves, cross items off the list, or help build a rainbow of fruits & veggies in the cart. Older children can be responsible for a part of the list, carry a calculator and help with budgeting, or google healthy recipes and come up with a list of ingredients to locate.

Get them packing their own school lunches: I know initially this is a big pain in the you-know-what, as you will need to supervise them directly and the process will take longer than usual, but eventually it becomes a lot more efficient, and you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner. Set some healthy guidelines for lunches, and give them choice within that: one fruit, one veggie, some healthy protein & healthy fat, for example, will keep lunches balanced and nutritious. Have them make their lunch the !night before to cut down on morning chaos.

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Farm to table: Incorporate some fun activities to teach your children where their food comes from. Visit a local farm or farmers’ market and talk to the farmer, or plant a veggie garden in your yard or an herb box on your deck. Give each child a “crop” they are responsible for tending and harvesting over the growing season.

Family Meal Planning: Getting organized is the key to keeping your family’s food real. Start meal planning together on the weekend, getting children involved in choosing healthy meals and recipes. Shop & cook on the weekends, make double batches & freeze, and peel and prep raw veggies for the week’s lunches. Good luck & get cooking.

Wendy McCallum, LLB, RHN, is passionate about providing busy parents with the tools & support they need to feed their families wholesome food, so everyone can play, learn, and feel better!  She is a mother of two terrific nine-year old kids. For information and recipe ideas, visit her website or pick-up her cookbook

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