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Teaching Children to Bake and Cook

On a cold, windy day while starting to make banana bread, I heard a knock at the door.  It was my 6-year old neighbor Carter.  He wanted to practice putting on my indoor golf putting machine.  Of course.  When he found out I was making banana bread, he asked if he could help.  Very much “Of course!”

I love being in the kitchen with children.  They are energetic, curious, and fun.  My deeper agenda lies in my belief as a dietitian that cooking from scratch is one of the foundations to optimal health.  With so many health-conditions related to nutrition, we provide a great service to children by teaching them that food doesn’t always come from a pizza carton or fast food restaurant. Teaching them to cook may impact their health for the rest of their lives.

If you have ever felt frustrated when children come to the table and groan about what’s on the menu, that’s a signal they need to be in kitchen.  Many research studies support the premise that when children are involved in meal preparation, they are more likely to eat the food and have a positive view of it.  It’s like anything – the more work you put into it, the more you appreciate the outcome.

I showed Carter my banana bread recipe – straight out of the Sports Nutrition Guidebook by Nancy Clark, RD.  It is healthier than other recipes, and extremely delicious.  You can get the recipe here.

After washing his hands, Carter got the big job of mashing bananas – 9 to be exact because I was tripling the recipe.  I gave him my potato masher and put the bananas in a large bowl.  At first he thought I gave him too tough of a task, but I encouraged him to stick with it and take his time.  He did, and the bananas got a good mashing.  We carefully measured out the other ingredients and added them to the bananas.  (Note the word “carefully” – this proactive approach can help ward off messes in the kitchen, which will encourage you to want to be there, too. However, if that fails, put the blinders on and know that, “Everything is washable.”)

When I pulled out the hand mixer, Carter was quick to tell me that he had never used “that” before.  After reviewing safety precautions, I let him put his hand on the handle with mine.  Instead of telling children, “Don’t put your fingers in the blades”, I prefer “Keep your hands on the handle at all times.”  It seems to be more effective to direct children on what to do than what not to do.  My apprentice baker was soon beaming with pride!

We made 6 mini-loaves.  I prefer the mini-pans for two reasons:  they allow the banana bread to get done in the middle without burning the exterior, and they allow for “add-ons.”  Carter wanted raisins in one, raisins and walnuts in the other.  I put walnuts in mine.  My son Nick chose plain.  This isn’t promoting “picky eating” by the way.  It is honoring authentic preferences so that children will eat what is prepared.

While the banana bread was baking, Carter and I worked on his golf game.  We are practicing to go to the children’s golf course at Lincoln Park this summer.  Soon the banana bread was done.  When Carter delivered two mini-loaves of banana bread back to his house, his family was quite impressed.

I’ve learned over the years that allowing the kitchen to be a place of creativity, fun, and bonding will bring children back.  A positive kitchen experience also promotes a child’s confidence.

What about you?  When was the last time you helped a child or teen cook or bake?  Email me at [email protected] I’d love to hear YOUR stories about how you share the joy of cooking and the lessons of nutrition with the youngsters in your life.  I will post your comments in my next E-Letter for Optimal Living!

If you need help orchestrating your family’s eating and fitness habits, consider hiring a nutrition coach!  Bev Benda is a Licensed Registered Dietitian and Board Certified Coach with over 20 years of experience in maternal child health.  Consider private coaching or the tele-class “Fit Family, Healthy Family” starting in June.  For more information, email [email protected]

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