HEALTHY CHOICES, HEALTHY LIFESTYLES BY BARBARA B. MINTZ, MS, RD
It is easy to forget that years ago, healthy habits and valuable lessons were taught in the kitchen, where family recipes and cooking skills were handed down from generation to generation.
When you think about an enjoyable and relaxing activity, food shopping or preparing meals with you children is probably not the first on your list. After a long day at work you might be faced with afterschool activities, homework, household chores and making dinner. Having a child in the kitchen while you are cooking or in the grocery store when you are trying to shop can be challenging. But you can use these activities to help you teach your children some valuable lessons. Not only does it help them understand the importance of healthy eating and making healthy choices, it can get them involved in the process. By applying the knowledge to a practical experience, it can help reinforce healthy messages and teach life skills that are invaluable.
Shopping with children can introduce them to the power of working as a partner and a team when trying to accomplish a task. It can also show them the importance of organization and budgeting. Letting them make choices with your guidance can empower them to try new foods. Cooking with your kids can help get them more interested in trying healthy foods that they might normally turn away from. And that isn’t the only benefit. According to the American Heart Association, children and teens were shown to eat fewer meals away from the home, thus reducing the exposure and temptation of fast foods. This in turn increased the amount of time they spend eating meals with their families as well as eating healthier foods that are lower in fat and calories.
The dinner can be the best choice of meals to cook and eat together. Mornings can be too rushed and schedules often do not allow you to eat together, much less cook. Most families gather together at the end of the day, so dinner is the meal you will most likely share together. If the weekday is too frantic and scheduled, then try cooking a meal over the weekend. It could be brunch or Sunday dinner in the afternoon.
Here are some tips for busy parents that want to begin helping their kids get on the lifelong journey of health and wellness:
• Make a shopping list together with your kids. This way it becomes a fun “scavenger hunt” for the items on your list. They will also be focused on the healthy items you put on the list, taking their minds of the less healthy choices. If your kids aren’t reading yet, use pictures to help them find food items
• If your child is old enough, have them help you cut out coupons and let them help you find the items. There are some valuable math lessons in this activity. You can bring a calculator with you and have your child add up what you are spending and what you save using any coupons. This gives them an understanding of the importance of udgeting.
• Ask your child to identify healthy choices when you are walking through the aisles. Let them choose some of these items that may not be on your list but are healthy choices. They will feel a sense of accomplishment, and the recognition for making a good choice will help to reinforce that behavior.
• Shop when you and your child are not hungry. Even adults have a difficult time choosing healthier foods when they haven’t eaten. You will most likely choose the fast and more convenient option which is usually highly processed and filled with fat, sodium and sugar.
• Shop when your child is well rested. Shopping after a long day at school, or the end of a long day at play, will only frustrate both of you.
• Let your child plan a meal. This is with your guidance of course. This will help them understand the importance of a balanced, nutritious meal and why each food is important. They can also begin to understand serving sizes. Tell them they have to pick at least one green vegetable. If they make the choice and help prepare it, they will eat it, or at least try it!
• Assess the skill level of your child. If you begin cooking with them when they are two or three (which IS possible), there are simple things you can have them do, like run water over the veggies or salad in the colander or shake herbs and spices onto foods. Some children can snap beans or help husk corn at that age. As they get older, they can help you measure food, cut vegetables, read recipes, or pour mixtures into baking dishes. Start small and easy. If you give them a task they may not be ready to handle, it may discourage them.
• Have a healthy snack and a caloriefree beverage (plain cold water with lemon is just fine) for you and your child while you are cooking. Bad habits can start when you and your child begin to nibble at the food being prepared.
Planning meals, shopping and cooking with the children are activities that have been lost over the decades due to our very busy and over-scheduled lifestyles. It is easy to forget that years ago, healthy habits and valuable lessons were taught in the kitchen, where family recipes and cooking skills were handed down from generation to generation. But do remember that the family meal is still important. It keeps us connected, as well as healthy. And while our kids are probably still going to be exposed to, and eat unhealthy foods from time to time, overall, it is the habits that they form early in life— and the diet they consume—that count.
Shopping, cooking and eating with your children have been shown to help families eat more fruit and vegetables, whole grains, and leaner protein sources—not just by choosing them together in the grocery store, but by cooking healthier as well. While these activities require more patience and time when kids are young, the rewards for all of you will contribute to a lifetime of healthy habits for the entire family. •
Reference: WebMD: Cooking with Your Children