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By Brigitte Weymiller, CD, CDE, RD, Gundersen Nutrition Therapy

One of the best ways to help children and teens eat healthy is to encourage them to learn to cook.

Learning to cook helps kids find out about nutrition and what it means to eat healthy. Kids who learn to cook benefit in other ways, too:

  • Are more likely to eat healthy
  • Contribute to the family
  • Learn about planning and making choices
  • Develop a life skill
  • Expand their understanding of math
  • Boost their self-esteem
  • Explore their creativity

Here are some tips to ensure a positive experience of cooking with your kids:

Safety: How much supervising your kids need in the kitchen depends on their age and maturity, especially when cutting and with cook top and oven tasks.Younger children usually need more direction, while teens may require little supervision. Safety is key.

Planning: Make a list of your family's favorite foods. Next, choose a recipe or plan a balanced meal with some of these foods. Write down a list of ingredients to get at the grocery store. Read the nutrition facts labels on food items while shopping to check serving sizes and nutrition.

Setting up: Make sure the cooking area fits. A lower table or step stool may be necessary to work comfortably at a counter or reach a cook top or microwave.

Cooking: Teach kids about food safety by washing hands and making sure your prep area is clean. Reading the cooking steps in the recipe and gathering ingredients helps kids learn to read directions and be prepared for the next step in the recipe. Review microwave and oven/stove top buttons and instructions for different types of foods. Using measuring cups and spoons to measure ingredients can help build math skills.

Enjoying the meal: Take time as a family to sit and enjoy the meal. Offer many different foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Offer new foods along with foods your children already like to eat. Many children need to be offered a new food several times before they will eat it. Show your child that you enjoy eating healthy foods and provide regularly scheduled meals.

Learning your way around the kitchen and preparing meals can help kids and teens be more invested in what they are eating. Allowing your kids to help with choosing the foods they eat is one way to show independence and make decisions on their own. Knowing how to prepare a balanced meal as a child can instill healthy eating behaviors as adults.

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