Cooking is so important for children and families.
We recently conducted some research and found that families who cook at home tend to incorporate more veggies into their diet, so they tend to eat more fresh food than those who don’t make home cooked meals.
The research also found that 82% of families who eat dinner at the table most nights tend to include fresh veggies in their meals, as opposed to those who eat in separate rooms.
So, I think the key here is that families that eat together tend to eat better, and when kids are in a communal situation they’re more exposed to eating vegetables and having them included in their meals.
Additionally, cooking is a great life skill that children should be learning. Not only does it introduce children to what fruit and veggies are — and how to use them to create a meal — but it also sets them up for their future.
Something we learned from our research is that only a quarter (26%) of parents think cooking is a basic life skill children should have. This compares to the 71% who rated social skills and 52% for exercise, as being the most important basic skills children should have.
How to help introduce children to vegetables
What’s great about our program, Jamie Oliver’s Learn Your Fruit and Veg, is that it introduces children to fruit and vegetables in a fun, engaging and educational setting where they don’t feel any pressure if they don’t like something.
By the time a child is in primary school instead of their palettes being expanded they’ve often been narrowed down to three types of foods. This is mainly because they’re putting up a fight at home and as a parent, it’s often easier to give children food you know they’ll eat. But what we’ve found is that persistence is key. The average number of times a child will reject a food, before they start to like it, is 15!
So, we really need to persist with building their palettes, broadening the tastes, sensations and flavours, and introducing them early to as many flavours as possible.
How we can do this is by making food fun. Allowing them to smell, taste, chop (and even spit out if they don’t like it) gives children an introduction to the different vegetables on offer.
When my daughter was younger she used to love playing with food and designing it to become a piece of art. I think we need to be more open-minded about how we get children involved in the cooking and food preparation process at home.
Children’s ability and imagination with food is endless and their capacity for play and to improvise is extraordinary. We need to encourage it and give them a safe place where they’re not worried about the mess.
Age-appropriate ways children can help in the kitchen
I don’t know that toddlers would be much ‘help’ in the kitchen, but I do think you can engage them with some of the aspects of the process. We’ve got children as young as three mashing, munching and peeling fruit and vegetables, even to the point where they get to chop and combine things with safety knives.
I’m amazed that when they’re in a setting with their little mates and in an environment where it’s more like an excursion, they really love getting involved in the whole process. If we can replicate this at home wouldn’t that be great?!
Most parents, I think, are not wanting to create a mess when they’re trying to get dinner ready and I understand that, but it doesn’t take long for a child to realise that it’s a stressful environment.
However, getting them mashing, combining and peeling things is a great way of introducing younger children to the process of cooking. And then as they get older you can introduce them to harder skills and techniques, such as chopping and using the stove and oven.
Easy meals children can help prepare
Healthy pizzas are a fantastic meal that kids can get involved in. You can get a really decent wholemeal pizza base and get kids involved in making pizza from the age of two. We actually teach kids how to make dough with their parents but if you can’t do that, pizzas are a wonderful way to introduce kids to vegetables and combining them with different things.
Salads are another great option that kids are able to help with at any age, whether that’s helping to chop the veggies or just simply mixing them all together.
Really simple meals like nachos, chicken fajitas, Greek salads and bruschetta are all meals that we’ve found kids have a lot of fun making. Even if you’re making something more complex you can still get children involved in some of the process while you manage anything more difficult.
Then once they get a bit older you can start introducing them to the concept of heat and making sure they understand what a hot pan is and how to safely use it. Bolognese sauce is a great one when they get to this level as it’s so versatile and it’s super easy to do.
Through our other program Jamie’s Ministry of Food, we’ve taught people who eat take away pizza week in week out and shown them how to make the same thing with their children but with fresh ingredients, which is not only healthier but also saves them money each week. One of the things we keep hearing is how much fun they have doing it together, from both a child and the parent’s perspective.
I think the thing about cooking, whether you do it with family or friends, is that it’s a communal, sociable, fun, creative, collaborative process. I think for social cohesion, for family cohesion and inclusiveness, cooking ticks all of those boxes. Not just looking at it from a nutritional and health perspective but from all those social human needs that we have.
The Bub Hub is proud to support Jamie Oliver’s Learn Your Fruit and Veg program
For more information visit jamiesministryoffood.com.au/jamie-olivers-learn-your-fruit-and-veg