How A Love Of Cooking Will Improve Your Child’s Eating Habits. Hello everyone, I hope you are well. In today’s post, I will be sharing a guest post from Chef Florence Rabattet, founder of En Cuisine Cooking School. Florence will be sharing some advice on how to help your children develop a love of cooking and eating healthy food. With so many parents time-poor and a plethora of accessible options, such as takeaway and microwavable ready meals, lots of adults spend very little time cooking healthy, nutritious meals from scratch. And, given the choice, children tend to opt for fast food and avoid veggies. So, what are the most important things to consider to make cooking with your children work for the family?
How A Love Of Cooking Will Improve Your Child’s Eating Habits
With so many parents time-poor and with many easy options, such as takeaway meals, microwavable ready meals and food-on-the-go, many adults spend very little time cooking healthy, nutritious meals from scratch. They often feel they don’t have the time, and as for eating seasonally, this just isn’t on the radar as most fruits and vegetables are available all year round on our supermarket shelves.
And what of our children? Even if they are, on the whole, encouraged to eat healthily at home, the chances are that their treat meal of choice will be from a burger chain. When eating out, the children’s menu is invariably processed meat or fish, covered in breadcrumbs and served with French fries. If they are offered a choice of vegetables, it’s unlikely to be more diverse than peas or baked beans.
Passion For Food
I have always been passionate about food and cooking. When my son was tiny (around 13 months old), I started cooking with him. I had just arrived in London from France and investigated cookery schools for him. I was shocked that no fully equipped kitchen offered cookery classes anywhere in London. So I started helping at my son’s nursery, teaching healthy cooking and food preparation and quickly realised that this was not something that was on offer in local nurseries and schools. From there, it was a logical step for me to train as a professional chef and start teaching children from three to four to cook.
Children can learn to make sensible, healthy choices if they are taught about food from a young age, ideally by cooking with their parents. Many obstacles prevent parents from cooking with their children, which I see repeatedly at my cookery school. Here are the most important things to consider to make cooking with your children work for all of you:
Take Them With You In The Kitchen And Let Them Be Messy
So many parents are put off cooking with their kids because they cannot face the ‘inevitable’ mess. On the one hand, I can understand, but let’s look at it another way. If you are cooking dinner and they are playing in the next room, I bet the room will be covered in all the toys they can pull out of the toy box in that time:
- cars and trains,
- dolls and action figures,
- cuddly toys,
- dressing up costumes and, every parent’s worst nightmare, Lego all over the floor.
When you look at it that way, don’t you think putting away vegetable peelers and knives and cleaning up unused ingredients sounds like a better option?
Also, the more regularly you cook with your child, the tidier their cooking should get. Plus, many kids love helping to clear up the kitchen, washing out bowls and wiping down surfaces, so the mess makers are also the solution (unlike that Lego, which you will be standing on at some point).
Encourage Them To Smell Before Tasting
Do not forget this – it is so important. In my experience, parents always say, “You have to taste this; it’s yummy”. But remember, the first thing you do when you sit in a restaurant is smell because the whole experience of cooking and eating starts with smell.
If a person, particularly a child, doesn’t like the smell, they will say no. But if a child likes the smell, they will be more willing to eat what they have made (even if they might otherwise be put off by something such as the colour or texture). In my classes, I often find children are disgusted by the sight of raw meat. For example, they will say that mince looks like brains, but when they realise it doesn’t smell bad, they are more favourable. The smell is essential for fish – fresh fish does not smell. If you have fish that smells, you should not be using it.
It Takes A While Before A Child Likes A Type Of Food
I have read a lot of studies on this, but my experience is what has taught me. It took my son five years before he started eating avocado. After all, it doesn’t smell of anything and has a strange texture, but he got there in the end. What about chickpeas? Why would a child want to eat those? Again, when my little boy started eating humous, it opened his eyes to enjoying chickpeas generally. You may have to experiment with a particular ingredient with your child many times before they are ready to start eating it.
If a child is not keen to try a particular food, try presenting it in different forms. This works particularly well for children who do not like vegetables, as most veggies can be prepared and presented differently. The courgette is a great example. Plain boiled courgettes are pretty uninspiring, but you can try so many options:
- Fried courgette
- Grated courgette,
- Courgette in tomato sauce,
- Courgette puree,
- Steamed courgettes with aromatic herbs, or even chocolate and courgette cake
Your child is likely to want one of these, and if you are cooking together, you can involve them in the decision-making process of how they want to try cooking it today.
Give Them A Good Knife
Many parents will not be happy with giving their small child a sharp knife. Indeed, many parents encourage children to cut with blunt kitchen knives. However, accidents happen when knives are not sharp enough. The reason for this is precisely the same for chefs: when we don’t have good knives, we apply too much force to the knife when using it, and that is when we get cut – children and adults alike.
I bought my son a ceramic knife from Ikea when he was five or six. Ceramic knives stay sharp if you don’t put them in the dishwasher. Of course, you only need to start your little one with a paring knife – I don’t recommend them wielding a full-sized kitchen knife. They only have little hands, and we’re not asking them to cut great lumps of meat in their early kitchen encounters.
The first thing parents need to tell their children when they start using a knife is that they are cooking, not eating – because it is a different way of holding the knife. Also, when holding the knife initially, they may be waiting for a fork when they need to use their hand. Consider how you hold a knife when eating versus cooking, and teach your child accordingly.
Your Fears Are Not Their Fears
I get it; having your babies near so many dangers is scary. But the worst thing you can do is let your fears rub off on them. They need to learn, learn from you, and be reassured so they learn how to do it in the safest way possible.
Knives we’ve covered, but let’s talk blenders. They’re noisy, which can scare some children, but don’t avoid using them; send them out while you do it or make them cover their ears. Explain why it will be noisy, and let them know it will only last briefly.
Hobs and ovens and the risk of burns are another frightening element, but don’t put them off going anywhere near them for fear of a burn. explain how to know if your particular hob is hot and how hot it might be (this will vary depending on whether you use gas, electric, induction, etc.) Likewise with ovens, don’t default to “don’t open the oven, it’s hot!” Instead, teach them to open the oven from the side so they don’t get steam in their face, ensure they know how to use oven gloves and protect their arms when putting things in and taking things out of ovens.
I know it’s counter-intuitive to let your child hurt themselves, but cuts and burns are part of cooking and should be dealt with calmly when they occur. It is part of the learning process. They need to understand how to deal with accidents in the kitchen.
Give Them A Recipe Book And Let Them Choose A Recipe
I tend to encourage this for younger children, although my pre-teen still likes to do this. Just tell your little one, “Find a recipe that you want me to cook or that you want to cook with me.” It helps if there is an image, as this makes it easier for your child to understand.
Please do not put them off what they have chosen because you think they might not like it; that defeats the object. How often have parents said, “But you won’t like that, it’s got (for example) onions in it”? This is the point at which to encourage them to embrace the whole recipe and not put them off trying it.
If you want your child to eat healthy food, only have healthy recipe books. I have over 50 recipe books, none containing recipes for what I would consider ‘rubbish’ food.
Take Them To The Supermarket With You And Show Them The Vegetables And Fruits.
You’d be amazed how many children I meet who cannot recognise simple fruits and vegetables. Interestingly, there is a correlation between knowing which essential ingredients are which and how prosperous the families are. The state school kids I teach are much more likely to go with their parents to do the food shopping, whereas the children of wealthier families often have staff to buy and prepare food.
So, take your children’s food shopping for essential ingredients. Even if you shop online, show your children what you are buying and ask them if they want to try a new fruit this week.
I would highly recommend taking them to the local market, as they will then learn about seasonality: that you can’t buy strawberries in winter, that tomatoes are cheaper in the summer when they are more abundant, that in autumn there is a lot of butternut squash to experiment with in the kitchen.
This is perhaps the most complex advice of all. Waiting for your child to get to grips with cooking is super frustrating. But it is just another life skill they must learn in their own time.
I hope you enjoyed that.
ABOUT FLORENCE REBATTET
Florence founded En Cuisine Cooking School in 2014. Passionate about food and cooking since her childhood, Florence decided to build her cooking school designed for children and teenagers. For her, seeing the new generations cooking from scratch with seasonal ingredients is fundamental. In 2023, Florence proudly became a Disciple d’Escoffier in London and reached the semi-finals of Gordon Ramsay’s Future Food Stars on BBC1 (season 2). Florence has a unique teaching style full of energy, which children find as irresistible as the food they make.