If you’re anything like most of our clients with kids, you want to set them up with a positive relationship with food from the very beginning. This can sometimes feel like a daunting task at the dinner table where tensions can run high and tantrums may ignite like wildfire.
If your mealtimes are more battle than buffet, know that you’re not alone. Pickiness is a common concern among parents, with up to 50% of caregivers reporting some level of picky eating in their young kids at any given age [*].
You may be wondering if there is anything you can do to help get your kids more excited about the food on their plates.
Why getting kids involved in the kitchen is important
Loop your loved ones (yes, even the picky ones!) into the cooking process and take some of the pressure off the dinner table.
Involving kids in cooking helps to set the stage with a positive relationship with food from the very beginning. When kids are encouraged to explore and get their hands a little dirty, food will become fun and more familiar. Getting up close and personal with food takes some of the fear factor away. Kids are more likely to try something they had a hand in creating [*].
Even if it doesn’t become their favorite meal overnight, the practice of trying something new is something your little one will benefit from for years to come.
As dietitians who help support both busy parents and kids with eating challenges, we know that getting kids involved in the cooking process isn’t always an easy task, or one you may feel ready for. However, we want to remind you that it doesn’t have to be perfect for it to be meaningful, especially the first time you try.
3 Tips for getting your kids involved in cooking
Celebrate your little helpers. Give your loved one a role
Most kids love to help, and can take on some simple kitchen duties during the cooking process. Make it even more fun by designating special kid-friendly cooking essentials like colorful mixing bowls, a kid-sized oven mit, and a special apron. Use your best judgment based on your loved one’s skills and readiness, but here are some general guidelines around age-appropriate tasks:
- 3-5 year olds: Stirring room temperature ingredients, washing produce, pressing cookie cutters
- 6-7 year olds: Read recipes aloud, measure ingredients, whisk eggs, peel oranges, bananas or boiled eggs, use a rolling pin
- 8-9 year olds: Use a can opener, check the temperature of food with a thermometer, juice citrus fruits, crack eggs, peel fruits and vegetables using a safe peeler
- 10 years and older: Slice or chop with parent supervision, pour pasta into boiling water, bake in the oven, help make the grocery list
grow and herb or veggie garden
Growing food is exciting and magical for kids. They’re almost guaranteed to be more interested in trying something they played a part in growing. Have your loved one decorate a pot, or be responsible for giving the plants water every day. Describe the different colors in the garden, and compare the tiny seeds to the big veggies they turn into. And if you don’t have space (or time) for a vegetable garden, a simple pot of your favorite herb on the windowsill can prove to be very exciting – and tasty!
taste everything together
Engage all the senses. Talk about the flavors, textures, smells, and appearance of the ingredients you’re cooking. Use descriptive language and challenge kids to find words other than “yummy” or “yucky” to describe what they see and taste. If your loved one refuses to try what you’re making, don’t force it. Let them know they’ll be able to try it whenever they feel ready and know that just exposing them to unfamiliar ingredients is a huge step in combating picky eating.
recipes to try with your kids
PB & J Smoothie
- ¼ Cup Peanut Butter (or sub sunflower seed butter)
- 1 Cup Fresh or Frozen Strawberries
- 1 Banana
- 1 Cup milk of choice
- Add ingredients into a blender and process until smooth and creamy. Add more milk if needed until desired consistency is reached.
- 1 Banana
- 2 Tablespoons nut or seed butter
- ¼ Cup Granola or cereal clusters
- Chocolate chips, coconut flakes or colorful sprinkles (optional)
- Peel banana and carefully spread nut butter along the side of the whole banana.
- Sprinkle granola or cereal on top of the sticky nut butter.
- Slice the banana into “sushi” pieces and top with sprinkles of choice.
- 1 Plain or Whole Wheat Bagel
- 2 Tablespoons marinara sauce
- ¼ Cup Mozzarella Cheese, shredded
- Toppings of choice: Pepperoni, basil, sliced peppers, diced tomatoes, sliced red onion, sliced black olives, pineapple chunks, etc.
- Preheat oven to 400˚F
- Slice the bagel into two halves. Spread marinara sauce onto each side and top with shredded cheese.
- Add toppings of choice and bake for 8-10 minutes, until cheese is melted and bubbly.
While we can’t promise that you’ll be able to turn your picky eater into an adventurous one overnight, inviting kids into the kitchen may help them gain the confidence they need to try new foods down the road.
If you’d like more support around cooking with your kids and helping to expand your picky eater’s palate, connect with us to learn more about nutrition counseling for families. And if you’re feeling worried that your kids are beginning to pick up on your difficult relationship with food, we can help you, too. Check out our Jumpstart to Intuitive Eating course, Flexible Meal Planning or ask our client care coordinator about how our dietitians can help.