All too often we view food in a negative way. We fear it. We restrict it. We avoid it. We give it labels like “bad.” We assign it moral value by saying things like “I feel so guilty for eating that.” We don’t respect it or how it was grown and produced. We waste it. We fail to enjoy it.

BUT here’s the thing. Food is so much more than just fuel. I can be so powerful and positive! It can be a source of connection, history, and the basis for lifelong health.

Teaching kids about food’s positive potential is so important – and a great starting point is teaching them food skils.

So. THIS. As a dietitian and mama, THIS is what I am passionate about!

Many kids are growing up lacking basic food skills, including how to shop, cook and build a balanced meal. These same kids are also being exposed to more and more unhealthy food and beverage messages. It’s driving a culture that relies too heavily on processed, packaged and take-out foods, which are not as nourishing as home-cooked meals and snacks made from whole, less processed foods.

Throughout the month of March I ran the #2018nourish Challenge on Instagram. The purpose of the challenge was to encourage families to connect over food and help their kids discover and embrace healthy eating habits by involving them in meal planning, grocery shopping, food prep, and cooking. Each week I posted a goal/mantra to help encourage your kids to be more involved in the kitchen.

Below you will find a summary of each week:

Week 1: Make grocery shopping fun!

The goal this week was to involve your kid(s) in shopping for food.

Some ideas: Have them help make the grocery list or let them make their own. Bring them to the store with you. Let them pick out one new food to try.Ask them to pick out items on the list and put them in the basket. Try a grocery store scavenger hunt. If they are really little, they can help by holding onto a food item in the grocery store or playing with items while you put the groceries away.

Why focus on grocery shopping?! Well, it is perhaps the most basic food skill and yet as a dieting, I work with so many adults who never learned this skill. Involving kids in shopping for food also provides them with an opportunity to explore and be exposed to food in an environment where they don’t feel pressure to eat the food. This allows them to become more comfortable with new foods before seeing them on their plate.

Improved food skills (such as grocery shopping) can lead to healthier eating, including eating more fruits, vegetables and fibre, while decreasing convenience and take out foods and sugar sweetened beverages. Also, getting kids involved with shopping and cooking can help with picky eating.

I know…it is often easier to do the groceries solo but trust me, if you want your kids to be competent and adventurous eaters, they need to be involved with shopping for food. And planting the idea that everyone in the household is responsible for helping out when it comes to food is a very valuable lesson.

Week 2: Never too little to help cook!

The goal this week was to involve you kid(s) in meal prep and cooking.

If they are really little, they can get involved by sitting in the kitchen and exploring some cooking tolls (measuring cups & spoons, spatulas, Tupperware). Talk to them about what you are doing in the kitchen.

Around 18-24 months many kids can start to do simple tasks to help. Washing their hands. Putting items into bowls or on plates for snack time. Some kids can even start using a plastic starter knife to cut ripe bananas for smoothies.

At 2-3 years old kids can find ingredients in the fridge or pantry. They can wash fruit and vegetables in the sink. They can stir/whisk/mix ingredients like eggs for scrambled eggs. They can smell herbs and spices. They can chop up more soft foods like mushrooms and tofu.

At 3-4 years old kids can begin to do more complex kitchen tasks. Measuring dry ingredient for baking. Pouring liquids. Peeling vegetables. Chopping slightly harder and more challenging foods like cucumbers, tomatoes, and strawberries. Assemble sandwiches. Place toppings on pizza. Crack eggs. Peel boiled eggs.

Then from 4-6 years old kids can start to follow along with recipes. They often love baking items like muffins, cookies, quick breads, and granola bars. Pancakes and waffles are usually a big hit as well. Kids this age can develop their skills using simple kitchen appliances like the blender and the toaster. They can continue to advance their prep skills by using by using a grater or spiralizer. They should also continue to work on chopping a wider variety of foods. Cooking or baking with a friend can be a great play date activity.

Week 3: Meal time is for connecting!

The goal this week was to make meal times enjoyable and fun for the whole family.

Parents so often tell me that meals and dinners in particular are such a struggle. I often work with families to Mae meal times a place to connect and enjoy each other’s company.

Why? Well, in doing so, parents provide kids with a safe and warm environment to help them explore new foods and learn to be competent and adventurous eaters!

Some ideas:

  • Remove distractions: no TV, no iPads, no phones, no toys
  • Designate an eating area: everyone sits in the same place
  • Use fun plates, cutlery, cups, napkins: let kids help set the table
  • Serve food family-style: let your kids serve themselves if they are old enough to do so
  • Remove all pressure to eat: no rules around cleaning your plate, no “one-bite rule”, no “no thank you bites”
  • Talk about something other than food: ask about each other’s day, or try implementing a gratitude practice

Week 4: Get creative in the kitchen!

The goal this week was to have some fun in the kitchen with your kid(s).

As parents we often get so focused on the mechanics of feeding our kids that we sometimes forget that food is joyful and fun!

This week I want you to do something out of the ordinary with your kids that involves food.

Some ideas:

  • Bake or cook a favourite or new recipe
  • Let your kids make the menu for one meal this week and then help them execute it
  • Do some arts and crafts revolving around food.
  • Decorate the table with fun napkins, dishes, cutlery, flowers
  • Try a “build your own” meal (tacos, pasta, veggie rolls, pizza). Put out a variety of prepped ingredients and let the kids pick which ones to include.
  • Pick a colour theme for a meal and only pick foods in that colour (my 6-year old likes green – think monster and slime!)
  • Or aim to “eat the rainbow” at a meal, have something in each colour of the rainbow

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