Everybody needs to eat, but not everybody loves to cook.
For some it’s a chore, to be accomplished quickly to get dinner on the table in time, for others it’s a labor of love, or at the very least an enjoyable task they look forward to. Whether you are someone that watches hours upon hours of Jamie Oliver on Food Network and browse the grocery aisles patiently and lovingly or the type that orders ready-made food kits complete with recipes to minimize the hassle, chances are you enjoy the finished result; a healthy, well-cooked meal that you can share and enjoy with your family.
One thing we should mention, however, is that the gift of a home-cooked meal that is made with love from good ingredients isn’t just a culinary treat, it is also a necessity. Countless studies have shown that eating home-cooked meals is better for our bodies, our spirits, and our pockets. (1)(2) While the occasional take-out will not bankrupt you (or your health), a regular take-out habit can lead to a lack of independence, higher risk of disease, and unnecessary expenditure in the long run. (1)(2)
So, It makes perfect sense to adopt a ritual of cooking at home, as many times a week as possible. If you’ve already tied on your apron and gotten the pots out, the next step may surprise you. Call over your kids! They may be 3 years old or 15 years old, either way, all recommendations point to the need to include them in your culinary adventures. Yes, we realize it may get messy very soon and can cause a lot of frustration (yours with your preschooler, or your teenager’s with you) but the results are worth it, and we are not talking about the Boeuf Bourguignon you are about to attempt.
Why might you ask, are we making such a demand of you? Because cooking with your children can have such benefits for both parents and children, and it goes beyond consuming a nourishing meal at the end of it.
Here are several reasons why:
Food is about comfort, love, and caring, and it’s also about heritage. Every family has a stash of well-loved and favored recipes, sometimes dating back generations, that act as a culinary bridge connecting ancestors to their great-grandchildren, or at the very least, connecting parent to child. Passing on your favorite recipe for chicken soup, passed down from your grandmother, will always remind your child of not only you but also your grandparents.
As you teach your child how to make it and cook it together, you can share stories about the recipe, anecdotes about that grandmother or a member of the family, or explain the choice of ingredients and any link they might have to your family history or cultural heritage. In this way cooking together can also be about passing down the love through generations, about a continued legacy, and last but not least, about making sure that chicken soup tastes just like your mama liked it. (4)
A bonus to parents and children cooking together is mental and emotional bonding. Think about introducing Family Fridays, a close relative of Taco Tuesdays, a weekly ritual that involves shopping for the ingredients together, cooking together, and then eating together. This creates a strong sense of camaraderie, an emotional connection, and strengthens familial bonds.
Children love routine and rituals, as it gives them a sense of security and safety, as do adults. These cooking rituals provide bonding opportunities as a family discusses the day they’ve had while preparing recipes or sharing meals. (4)
A dish called resourcefulness
An old saying goes – Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day; Teach a Man To Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime. The same applies to children. A child that cooks regularly with his parents, will soon be able to master simple dishes for himself, and cook for himself, and even for his siblings, and his family.
While another kid might be stuck making PB&J sandwiches well into his college years, your little chef will be cooking up a fish, or rather a fish stew, enjoying wholesome home-cooked meals, nourishing his body on all the important food groups, and keeping himself healthy with the cooking skills you teach him today. Sourcing the ingredients, adjusting a recipe, and cooking a successful dish, teaches children to be confident, independent, and most importantly resourceful. (3) It also won’t hurt his popularity when all those other kids tire of their PB&J sandwiches and beg him for some of that amazing stew.
A dash of independence
We all long and dread for the moment that our children will leave the nest, and forge their way in the world. However, whether that moment is eons away or just around the corner, every parent does their best to make sure their child is ready, armed with confidence and independence, that will get them successfully through life, and the more skills they have, the better off they are.
Kitchen skills are no less important than computer skills, as food is a primary need, and the quality and expense of food can determine their health well being and their budget allowance. Cooking up a perfect Roux is no less complicated than creating a diagram, as cooking includes multiple steps and usually requires a call on judgment, and children who learn to cook independently, usually also have an innate ability to undertake complicated tasks and complete them successfully and independently. (3)
Here, try this
Children who cook at a young age, especially ones that help in sourcing the ingredients beforehand, will learn about a multitude of fruits, veggies, herbs, and spices, and in turn, are more likely to try them and accept them. Picky eaters who would normally refuse a dish that looks, smells, or tastes different would be much more likely to taste it if they’ve had a hand in putting it together. Buying groceries and then cooking together can be one way to expand their culinary horizon and get them to accept refined flavors like that of roasted coriander, cumin or turmeric.
Homemade is best
Are you wondering whether the TumYum soup is full of MSG? or whether that Carrot muffin is full of glucose-fructose syrup? One way to eliminate those questions is to make these dishes yourself, or even better yet, have your child make them with you. When it comes to cooking and baking, most recipes call for natural or common ingredients found in most pantries, as opposed to take-out or store-bought, that doesn’t always come with a list of ingredients, and can be loaded with added salt, sugar, chemicals, and other flavor enhancers.
Families that rely on home-made food have been shown to have healthier lifestyles,(1)(2) and children who help in cooking and learn how to cook, quickly pick up on the value of healthy eating, the difference in quality between natural and processed ingredients, as well as serving sizes and portion control. Because they see what goes into making a dish, this invites conversations with their parents about food groups, nutrition, food sources, unnecessary additives and chemicals.