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How kids helping in the kitchen can combat childhood obesity

Posted June 7

According to the CDC, Americans' waistlines continue to grow. By having kids help cook meals, parents encourage healthy eating habits and combat obesity now and in children's future. Here are a few ways kids can help in the kitchen. (Deseret Photo)

Americans’ ever growing waistbands seem to always be in the news, blowing out rivets and providing researchers several lifetimes worth of data.

One study looking at obesity and a child’s age suggested that the trend is slowly clicking downward while another argues it’s not. Despite that though, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that childhood obesity is still an issue parents and school districts need to be addressing.

Among strategies the CDC suggests to prevent obesity is making healthy food choices and learning about nutrition with programs like Choose My Plate. While it’s not always easy to convince kids to eat healthy foods, Elaine Magee, registered dietician and contributor on WebMD, said that involving kids in the kitchen makes healthy foods more palatable for them.

“It's true that including the kids in cooking meals requires time, patience, and some extra clean-up, especially when the children are younger,” Magee said in an article on WebMD. “But many experts think it is well worth the effort.”

Magee goes on to explain that it’s OK if kids snack on chips or enjoy an ice cream cone now and again, the main thing is that kids eat healthy most of the time.

“Keep in mind that for kids today, healthy eating essentially means eating more fruits and vegetables, having whole grains and beans when possible, and choosing leaner types of animal foods,” Magee said.

With parent supervision, kids of all ages can get involved in the kitchen from prep to cleanup. Here are a few ideas from lifehacker.com for getting kids involved in the kitchen:

Preschool cooks (2-5 years old):

Tiny cooks will need lots of help (and probably a change of clothes once they’re done) from parents, but most are very willing helpers. Remember that young ones have very short attention spans, so small tasks are best.

  • Stirring batter or mashing potatoes (this also helps build gross motor skills)

  • Spreading peanut butter or jam on bread (this helps build fine motor skills)

  • Cutting dough using cookie cutters (try this simple biscuit recipe from Paula Deen)

  • Measuring ingredients

  • Rinsing and straining fruits and vegetables

Elementary cooks (6-8 years old):

Kids this age still need quite a bit of help and supervision, but they’re old enough to start doing some simple recipes or prepping ingredients by themselves or with a little help from parents.

  • Using simple kitchen tools like a cheese grater or can opener (try grating with this zucchini bread recipe. This recipe is also a sneaky way to get kids to eat vegetables without them knowing it.)

  • Cooking or preparing food using a microwave (popcorn, melting chocolate, frozen vegetables).

  • Making cheese quesadillas on the stove.

  • Whipping cream with a hand mixer (this super simple whipped cream recipe is a great one to have kids start reading recipes too. This recipe is simple enough parents can give more mature kids a little more independence in the kitchen.)

  • Using a small knife or peeler to prep vegetables and fruits.

Intermediate/preteen cooks (9-12 years old):

Preteens are often mature enough they can start making simple meals, reading recipes and using kitchen appliances by themselves. Depending on a child’s maturity, they should start feeling comfortable with knives and other sharp kitchen tools.

  • Making simple cookies with limited supervision (Chocolate chip cookies are always a favorite, but shortbread cookies are an easy and versatile cookie).

  • Making their own breakfast (including toast and eggs or overnight oatmeal, which provides an opportunity for kids to be creative in the kitchen).

  • Cleaning, prepping and oven-roasting veggies (cooking times vary, test for tenderness using a fork).

  • Making hamburgers for the family (this one may require more supervision, depending on if the burgers are cooked inside on the stove or outside on a grill).

  • Cleaning up after themselves completely (dishes done and leftovers and ingredients stowed in the fridge or pantry appropriately).

Advanced/teenage cooks (13-16 years old):

Teenagers should be able to do just about anything they want in the kitchen with little to no supervision. They should have the skills to try anything they want, even difficult recipes like homemade marshmallows or French macaroons.

  • Cooking pasta (biggest secret to this one is salting and oiling the water well. It's the only chance to flavor the pasta itself, so make sure the water is very salty and has a good film of olive oil).

  • Making switches that are healthier (here are some ideas for making a switch).

  • Or if eating healthy isn’t their thing, making their favorite junk food instead of buying it (mozzarella sticks, corn dogs and fried pickles are the best, and they’re cheap to make).

Abigail Payne is an intern with Deseret Digital Media and a recent graduate of Weber State University. Abby can be reached at apayne@deseretdigital.com.

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