10 easy ways to get kids excited about cooking, according to experts – Advice Eating

With all the extra time we’re spending at home, wouldn’t it be great to inspire your kids’ creativity…in the kitchen? It might seem daunting, but there are actually more ways to get her interested and engaged than you think. From choosing the menu to tasting strong spices to impromptu dance parties by the stove, experts share some tried-and-true ways to spark your child’s culinary curiosity.

Stimulate their minds as well as their taste buds.

“Rule #1, trust kids no matter what age they are,” explains Sylvie Berger, a New York-based chef who runs workshops she calls “kids’ culinary playgrounds.” In other words, don’t think that just because you’re a kid, you automatically refuse a meal. Instead, ask her for her opinion on a good recipe to try, start a conversation about what you could make with eggs, stimulate your child’s imagination. “If they understand, you trust them … and you cook and discover together,” says Berger, “that’s how you bring them with you.”

Tickle all your senses.

While cooking and eating is about taste, it is also about so much more. “Have them describe a food by looking at it,” suggests Lauren Sharifi, a Massachusetts child and family nutritionist who works with many picky eaters. “Touch the food, smell the food, hear the sounds it makes.” This sensory exploration allows children to engage with food in new ways that can change their perspective and stimulate their imagination.

Work with your obsessions.

If your child is smitten with sweet potatoes, explore everything the ways to do it. Share a raw sweet potato with them, slice and roast, mash, make a baked option that layers other ingredients. Whether it’s a sweet potato (ingredient) or a soup (a dish), show that an item can have millions of variations, which can inspire further exploration.

Make smart pairings.

Getting your kids excited about making a pizza might not be too difficult. But how do you fuel that same enthusiasm for cooking, say, broccoli? “The easiest way to teach kids about vegetables is to mix them with something tasty,” says Berger. This can be eggs, cheese or dough, which bring the yum factor and with it a more open mind. “It helps them understand that we don’t just have to put a piece of broccoli in our mouths,” says Berger, “that you can do all sorts of magical things with these vegetables.”

let things get messy

Throw perfection out the window when cooking with kids. Don’t expect the food let alone the kitchen to be pretty. Alexis Newman, a Philadelphia-area nutritionist, realized this while preparing jambalaya with her own three-year-old when the spices flew through the air. “If I want her to like and enjoy food, it becomes a messy process and I just have to be okay with that,” she says. Not only is this attitude healthy, it also encourages a fun atmosphere where you can relax and enjoy the experience more.

Make it spicier.

It might be counterintuitive, but don’t play it safe. Bland is boring no matter how old you are. “Spices are fantastic for kids,” Berger says, pointing out that extreme flavors appeal to their more adventurous spirits — albeit with a forewarning of their potential strength and bottled water at the ready. First, strain their nose by putting spices like cumin, cloves, and cayenne pepper in a paper bag to smell, and then have them blind test a small amount. “Like it or not, it’s surprising to their taste buds, and they love that.”

give them control

To get kids excited about cooking, think beyond the stovetop. “One night a week, let them help you decide what recipes to make for dinner and build on that,” suggests Melissa Halas, a nutritionist in Pasadena, California, and founder of SuperKids Nutrition, the healthy food company promoted in children and families. You can help with the grocery list, set the table, choose the music to listen to (and dance to) while you cook. As Halas points out, “Kids get excited when they feel responsible.”

mother and children cook together in the kitchen

Flip the tools.

Who wouldn’t have fun with something called a crinkle cutter? Though gadgets like this, which slices everything from veggies to cheese in a cute zig-zag pattern, make the prep job seem like a game, even the simplest of kitchen tools can. Think of: rolling pins, measuring cups, vegetable peelers, even aprons and oven mitts. If you are working with younger children, opt for plastic as it is lighter and brings in lots of colour.

Start them young.

“I don’t think people realize that they can start getting their kids involved from a young age,” says Sharifi. By as little as a year and a half they are learning about and researching food, which makes it a great time to introduce them to the process and spark their curiosity. Newman used to hold her baby on her hip while she cooked, and now her three-year-old daughter lugs a chair over to the counter to help with dinner.

Exemplify good (eating) behavior.

Just like other areas of parenting, your children pick up on your cues. “If you’re passionate about cooking, your kids will be too,” says Halas. Experimenting, sharing and learning is part of the whole process. Share your excitement at seeing them in the kitchen, give positive feedback as they cut, measure and stir, and then reiterate what a great job they did.

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