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Involving kids in the kitchen

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Mother and daughter preparing food.

Sariah Israelsen: This is Utah public radio. I'm Sariah Israelsen. Thanks for joining us for USU Extension Educational Highlight. Stacy Bevan, professional practice associate professor joins us this week to talk about the benefits of including children in our kitchen this year.

First off, Stacy, what are some reason parents should want to include their children in the kitchen this year?

Stacy Bevan: Okay, great question. Getting Your Kids in the Kitchen really starts to build their food literacy skills, that gives you an opportunity to teach them about food and nutrition, you're really helping them to get a foundation of a skill that's necessary for life.

So when they leave home, as they go to off to college, or you know, graduate high school, they're going to have skills that they need to feed themselves.

It's a good time to talk about where their food is coming from; how it kind of transforms and that process before it gets to your kitchen. How it transforms as you're preparing and cooking it. It just teaches a lot of life skills that are really important.

Also, involvement in meal preparation exposes them to new foods in a positive way. And that can increase their likelihood of trying new foods.

Research has shown that children tend to be more willing to try the foods that they've helped prepare. So as they try these new foods, we as parents, or parents out there, they can encourage their children to use all their senses like smelling, filling and tasting.

As they taste something new they can discuss differences that their children notice. And as children become more comfortable with a new food before eating it, they're more likely to have that positive perception of it, and they're more likely to eat it.

So, in a way, getting them involved in the kitchen can help produce less picky eaters, maybe more adventurous eaters in your home.

Sariah Israelsen: Going off with that, what are the benefits of children eating more varieties of food?

Stacy Bevan: Yeah, eating a variety of foods is going to provide different nutrients essential for their growth and development. It's going to help reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

But it's important to remember that kids will not always accept new foods that you offer. So as parents, we can kind of fall back on some advice given by Ellyn Sattar. She's a registered dietician, nutritionist, she's a family therapist and an author.

She came up with what's considered kind of the gold standard in feeding children, and that's called the Division of Responsibility.

The Division of Responsibility states that parents are responsible for what is presented to eat and the manner in which it is presented. And then the children's responsibility is how much they eat, and even whether they eat.

So, if we keep this rule in mind, parents need to remember that new foods can be scary to kids. So we need to give them time to get used to that new food experience that with their senses. And so having your kids can help cook and prepare these foods in the kitchen, it can be one of those first exposures and kind of starting to pathway into acceptance of those foods and developing a preference for them.

But we also have to remember that they might not eat that new food on the first, second or even third exposure, research has shown that it can take up to 10 or even more times until they accept a new food, even months of offering that food.

So, we fall back on that Division of Responsibility, and remember that it's our job to serve those foods and involve our kids and preparing those foods. But then we still have to let the kids decide if they're going to eat it and how much they're going to eat.

And parents really should not put forth pressure, they shouldn't force their kids to eat it or bribe their kids that if they eat a certain food, they want them to then they would give them a reward, or they could have dessert right after.

We want to present that food. That's our job and then give it over to the kids to do their job of whether or not they want to eat it and how much they want to eat it. Because if we pressure a lot of times, you get the opposite effects than what parents hoped for, and their kids actually become more resistant to that food.

Sariah Israelsen: Is there anything that parents should steer clear of when they do involve their children in the kitchen?

Stacy Bevan: Yeah, so I think you're just going to want to make sure that you're choosing tasks that they can help with that are appropriate for their age and developmental levels.

So you wouldn't want to hand over like a sharp chef's knife to a four-year-old to cut up carrots and then leave the kitchen. You can buy kid friendly nylon or plastic knives for kids and these knives, you know, don't really cut up denser hard foods, but they work well for softer foods.

You can start getting your kids involved in the kitchen as young as two years of age with really safe and simple tasks. And as they get older, they can start helping with bigger tasks.

I think the key thing is that you want to make sure that you're supervising as you're introducing new skills and then slowly progress from there. So, you'd never want to, you know, let them do something without being there and making sure that they have the development to be able to accomplish that skill so that they're not getting injured.