by Kyra Martin
A friend of mine mentioned that I should check out MasterChef Junior the other day. Having some time to kill I pulled up an episode OnDemand, thinking it might be fun to see what crazy concoctions these kids would come up with. About 20 minutes in, I was seriously beginning to question my own culinary ability, and I'm a professional chef. These home cook kids were putting out dishes and flavor combinations that I'd be willing to bet the average adult would be struggling to put together.
While most kids aren't the next cooking prodigy, this show made me fondly remember my days as a young budding “chef”. I use the term “chef” very lightly because essentially what would happen was my mom would open all the cabinet doors and say, “Go for it!” Our crowning achievement was garlic cookies. But despite the almost always inedibleness of the final product, my mom had succeeded in getting us interested in food. A feat that is increasingly difficult in our ever busy lives, where convenience often gives way to home cooking and exploration. This is leading to an increase in picky eaters. Now children have been picky since the beginning of time, but when they're becoming accustomed to burgers, bean burritos and the like, it's even harder to get them to try new and healthier options.
Here are a few ideas that might help to start getting your children interested in food:
- Make it a family affair. While grocery shopping might be your sacred weekly alone time, maybe once a week make a special trip where you take the kids with you. Plan a meal and have them help you pick out all the ingredients. This is a great way to try new recipes and have them start learning where the food they eat comes from. It also gives you a great opportunity to showcase your own knowledge of how to pick out the best fruits and veggies and other things.
- Menu planning. By planning a menu kids know what to expect so they won't be sitting down to a surprise meal every night. It might help ease some tension if they can prepare for the impending Thursday night broccoli. It's also incredibly helpful for you as a cook to know what you're making, make sure you have everything on hand ahead of time and to help with budgeting. Make sure to check out our menu planner tool here: http://cookeatshare.com/menu_planner . It also allows you to add recipes you have saved so you don't have to start from scratch every week.
- Let them help you! Set aside one night a week where the kids make you dinner, or at least help. Make sure it's not a night where you are in a hurry so that you can really and truly enjoy your time in the kitchen together. Start sharing family recipes. Teach them the secret ingredient in your famous cookies. Not only will your kids be more willing to try something they helped to make, it might even help you get extra things done! It's always nice to have an extra set of hands in the kitchen. Do make sure that you stress kitchen safety. Teach them the proper way to hold a knife, how to approach the stove and sanitation basics like always washing your hands.
- Be the example. Your kids look up to you. The best way for them to start being healthy and/or adventurous is to follow your example.
- Don't force it. Kids are skeptical. When introducing something new give them a small amount and accompany it with something you know they love. Let them try it their way, which might include microscopic bites a little at a time, and eventually they will decide for themselves if they like it or not. Don't force them to eat all of it or you might have the opposite effect of immediately putting them off something they otherwise would have grown to love. And remember that even though they are young and developing, not every palette is the same. Just because you absolutely LOVE something doesn't mean your kid will. If you really want them to try and like it, re-introduce it every so often and see if they develop a taste for it.
These are just a few of the examples I found online and in practice with my nieces. Try doing your own research and experimenting with different things to find out what works best for you and your family. Maybe watching MasterChef Junior or other kid centered cooking shows will help. Seeing their peers being daring and making and trying amazing food is a good motivator. And most of all have fun with it! Cooking is such a wonderful experience. Enjoy being together and passing on a love of all food to the next generation.
**Disclaimer: Before making an major dietary or health changes you should always consult a trained, licensed professional. And never let your kids cook unsupervised.
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