Sunday, February 17, 2008

Kids Who Cook = Kids Who Eat?

I just read an interesting article in my local paper about children who love to cook, little aspiring chefs who spend their afternoons watching the Food Network instead of cartoons, who pull stools up to the kitchen counter so that they can actively participate in the preparation of the family dinner. Fascinating to me especially since all of the children featured appeared happy, healthy, and within their proper weight range. With our nation's obesity rate growing at an alarming rate, especially in children, this article gave me food for thought. Is there a link between cooking and a healthy relationship with food when it comes to children? Do they eat better when allowed and encouraged to plan & prepare their own meals? I think so, as do the experts listed in this article.

Personally, I have a couple examples of my own, starting with my own cooking history. As an only child of a two-career couple, I was expected to cook dinner several times during the weeknights, if only to get things started and then Mom would finish up. This wasn't a chore to me, I enjoyed it. We weren't fancy eaters by any stretch of the imagination but every single night we had dinner together at the table, no tv, no phone calls, no distractions. Our house was filled with fruits & vegetables at all times along with a reasonable amount of treats, all in good balance. Once a week we ate out, and fast food was a novelty, not a daily event. Once I had my own children I did much the same, filling them with fresh produce and lean meat, ending each meal with fruit instead of heavy desserts. Cookies and treats were part of their diet but not the primary focus.

Now, my first married home with Lily & Bambi's dad was very small and the kitchen closed-in, unattractive and barely functional. I managed to cook basic meals but was rarely adventurous. After all, I had three kids under the age of 6, two of them in diapers at once, not exactly time for gourmet feasts! Still, we managed, for 10 long years! (The photo above is of Kali helping me make bunny-shaped rolls for Easter). But once we moved to our new house with the much-larger kitchen and more open floor plan, I was in heaven! I started collecting cookbooks, poring over meal plans each day, baking and cooking to my heart's content. My kids were old enough to appreciate the effort and dinnertime became the main event of the day. I was in heaven. During these years my girls helped when they could and they were exposed to all different kids of foods and cooking techniques. As a result they are now all good cooks, creative and skilled in the kitchen. Lily has even expressed an interest in culinary school in addition to her Journalism career. They are all a very healthy weight and have a respect as well as love of food. So, that being said...

We have a couple new members of our family who have not had the same experience. Their mom rarely cooked and they never sat down to dinner together as a family. Meal times were hit or miss, each member doing for his or her own self, the dining room table sat unused as they dined at the bar or in front of the t.v. I'm not judging, truly I'm not, but I do believe it has had an impact on their relationship with food. They rarely eat fruit or vegetables and are seemingly unaware of proper table manners. They are hesitant to try anything new and would be happy to exist on chicken fingers and french fries. They aren't comfortable sitting down together and simply dining, it's foreign to them. I shudder at this, of course, and do my best to encourage and inspire. Though they are both thin and in no immediate danger of malnutrition, I wonder how long that will last? Will this poor diet eventually take it's toll on them in the form of poor health and/or obesity? And is there anything I can do about it? At ages 12 and 14, is it too late? Should I take them into the kitchen and teach them about cooking, cajole them into helping? Is it even my "job" or responsiblity? I really don't know, but I am concerned and not sure how to proceed from here. Thoughts?

To sum it all up, I'm just really pleased that my girls are good cooks and eaters, and even if I have a bit of extra baggage to show for it..grin...I am the same. I'm encouraged by the young people who are taking the time to make their own meals instead of hitting the drive-through. Food is such an integral part of our lives, we might as well take joy in every aspect of it!


kim said...

I think so! You never know. Maybe they are afraid to express an interest in learning to cook.

Maybe you could start by having them there with you as you start to cook. Ask if they'd like to help. I'd be surprised if they said no.

I know you'll be encouraging, that's just the way you are.

You could take pictures too and post them for us!!


The lessons we learned from your kitchen mean so much more than just nutrition, or even cooking. I'm always proud when we have friends over and they have a great time because what I learned from you about bringing people together. No, we don't have any matching glasses, but we're never short on people to fill up our little house at a moment's notice. At our Valentine's Day Massacre party this past week, my sister Lily ran home to borrow your bottle of olive oil when we ran out because the fried tortellini were flying off the table. Some of our guests didn't know what tortellini were, let alone that you could fry them.

It's happened more than once that Kevin and I are the only person to bring something to the host of a party, whether it's a tray of brownies from scratch or just a six-pack picked up from the store on the way over. I take for granted how effortlessly you instilled such values in us, whether they're to be applied to ourselves, our guests or ourselves as guests.

Mother of Invention said...

I think you should ask the new girls if they would like to help you and learn how to cook. They might really appreciate it and so might your husband.

(I have made quite a few of the recipes I've seen here! Stuffed Fiesta peppers tonight in fact!)

Rapunzel said...

Thank you for the input! Perhaps tonight when I'm preparing dinner I'll invite them to join in, we'll see if they're interested. :-)

Kali, your words mean the world to me and you're right: everyone feels welcome at your home! Good job, I'm very proud of you.

Teacats said...

Many of our best times -- and even the worst of times -- were held in the kitchen. When we first watched movies like Moonstruck or My Big Fat Greek Wedding -- my DH said "Thats just like YOUR house" whenever food was mentioned! Another movie like "Must Love Dogs" reminds him that "Put the Kettle On" is a motto to live by .... and that a nosh can put a better spin on any day! Think of all the lessons that cooking teaches us -- math, chemistry, economics, history and psychology!

Jan at Rosemary Cottage who loves to read all about your food and cooking!

Jen said...

I loved reading this post. My kiddos cook with me several times a week, and even when they don't help, the almost always watch. We have almost as much fun chatting and visiting while we prepare the meal as we have eating it!

Kiki Veronica said...

yes! yes! yes!