The Importance of Family Meals – How to Cook with Kids

We hear again and again the profound impact sharing family meals can make to kids’ health and well-being.  Breakfast, lunch or dinner, at home or dining out, family meals teach valuable skills, boost confidence and more!  Participating Kids LiveWell and Healthy Dining restaurants can help families sit down together over a meal any day of the week, especially when time is short, but when a home-cooked meal is on the menu, these tips from Together Counts partner Camp Shane can help get kids involved in the kitchen at home.

Take a look at the stats and you’ll see that Americans know finding time to eat as a family is important, but insufficient time often gets in the way of the family sitting down together for a meal. “In response to an FGI Research survey conducted among 1,000 Americans ages 18 and above: 54.4% responded that weekly recipes with tips on how to get kids involved would help people make a weekly habit of cooking and eating as a family, and 50.8% responded that lack of time gets in the way of a family sitting down together for a family meal,” reports Diana Rice, a registered dietitian for “The Kids Can Cook Monday.”

While there is a growing need for family meals in modern society, it would seem that busy parents remain uncertain as to how to initiate such an undertaking. Stephanie Allen of Dream Dinners suggests planning meals like mandatory events. “Plan your meal like you would a dentist appointment or a soccer practice; actually put it on your calendar. Aim for 2-5 nights a week, which is proven by studies to show the greatest benefits to your kids…If you can’t meet for dinner, aim for a different meal or an evening snack when everyone can be together.”

How Getting Kids Involved Benefits Them

Although cooking is a life skill that has many practical future applications, it also helps kids develop confidence in their own abilities. Children who spend time in the kitchen will be far more likely to try new foods than their peers. Those who are actively involved in growing the foods that will later make an appearance on their dinner tables will be more inclined to eat them. There is no doubt that both gardening and cooking allow parents to get finicky eaters to try a wider variety of different, nutritious foods.

Tips for Cooking With Kids

What better way to bring back the home-cooked family meal than by getting kids involved in food prep? By preparing dinner together, families get to spend far more time with each other and often eat more nutritious food. Here are some actionable tips to get kids cooking with parents in the kitchen.

  1. Pick Fun Recipes and Ingredients – The best way to help gain children’s immediate attention is for adults to select a recipe that is either kid-friendly fare or a long standing family favorite. Youngsters will be more eager to assist their parents if the food being prepared is something they already know they like to eat. But don’t always forego new recipes – there’s always room to explore new creations!
  2. Keep Kids Entertained – Often, the question is how to get children interested in spending their free time doing something other than playing video games or watching TV. Yvette Garfield of Handstand Kids Cookbook Company advises parents to give kids “their own age appropriate space in the kitchen and [provide] assigned tasks in the cooking preparation” process in order to pique their interest acquiring culinary skills. Always try to “gamify” the experience. Simple things like finding the right ingredients in kitchen can be a scavenger hunt and not a mundane chore.
  3. Wrap Up Dinner with Clean Up – Of course, cooking can be a messy activity, so it is always a good idea to involve youngsters in the cleanup process that follows. Children can help wash dishes, sweep floors or clear the tables after the meal is finished. This way, adults get a respite from having to do all the work involved in making a homemade meal on their own, and youngsters learn valuable life skills in the process.

Truly, cooking together is good for the whole family, so why not set aside a day to partake in this experience with your own clan?