The holiday season invites families to get into the kitchen together and collaborate on the most delicious treats of the year. I recently spoke to Sandy Nissenberg, nutrition expert and author of “The Everything Kids’ Cookbook,” about the benefits of cooking with kids.
The Epoch Times: Your most recent book is an updated version of “The Everything Kids’ Cookbook.” What inspired you to write the original, and what’s different about this new edition?
Sandy Nissenberg: As a registered dietitian with young children, I constantly found myself helping other young mothers with questions regarding their kids’ diets. After giving never-ending “free” advice, I decided many could benefit from fun and informative cookbooks. I began my writing career in 1989, with now more than a dozen books to my name.
This particular book addresses the need for school-aged children to understand healthy eating, while learning to cook simple recipes for themselves. It includes popular favorites and some new ones—some foods that weren’t mainstream even 10 years ago, like quinoa, avocado, Brussels sprouts—that so many children enjoy now.
The Epoch Times: What do you feel are the benefits of teaching and encouraging kids to cook?
Ms. Nissenberg: Young children love hands-on learning. They want to be in the kitchen and help in any way they can. Instead of pushing them out of the kitchen while preparing meals, parents should bring them in, give them jobs. Even children as young as 2 can place napkins on the table, wash lettuce and vegetables, and put bread in a bread basket, for example.
By encouraging young helpers and showing them how to work around the kitchen at a young age, they learn to get involved. Not only is an involved child appreciative about their accomplishments, they will likely enjoy eating what they have helped create.
So, the benefits of early learning, teaching, and encouraging kids likely will lead to children who grow up with an appreciation of helping, preparing good foods, and eating more healthfully. Along the way, teaching kids to enjoy mealtime, sit at the table, and converse with the family also leads to children who are better learners in school, and more independent in later years.
Also, cooking helps kids develop math and science skills. Understanding measurements, volume, cooking temperatures, why breads rise, and so forth all can be lessons incorporated into the cooking experience.
The Epoch Times: Cooking is a key life skill. What are the keys to teaching kids to become competent in the kitchen?
Ms. Nissenberg: Children learn by example. If you’re a parent that only eats fast foods, take-out foods, or frozen dinners, you’ll likely raise a child to do the same. This is why bringing cookbooks such as The Everything Kids’ Cookbooks is so important.
Give your child a night of the week to plan meals and help with preparing the meals. Let them take pride in their accomplishments.
The Epoch Times: What advice would you give parents of children who seem to have a passion for cooking? How can they best encourage them?
Ms. Nissenberg: Let the children explore various cookbooks, watch cooking shows, and make time to work together in the kitchen to experiment. Set aside a few hours each weekend, just as if you were sending your child to a class.
Work together on creating menus and shopping lists, go together to the store to shop, measure out ingredients, gather the family to share results. Not only will they enjoy your company, but you’ll be creating memories that will last a lifetime.
The Epoch Times: The holidays are a time to enjoy many special treats and indulgences. What do you recommend parents do to strike a balance between allowing the family to partake in all the fun, but also maintaining healthy nutrition overall?
Ms. Nissenberg: Spending time creating menus for mealtime is important. Children can learn the benefits of healthy eating through the MyPlate chart or worksheets available at ChooseMyPlate.gov. This demonstrates how to “color” your plate, eat a variety of foods of different colors and textures, and balance your food choices. Print out and color placemats to use at mealtime.
Parents should encourage their children to try new foods, even if only taking one bite. One bite today might lead to more bites tomorrow.
Then, following meals, treats can be acceptable in moderation. Don’t make a big fuss over treats. They should not be used as a bribe. Offer them in moderation, and keep lower-calorie treats available, like graham crackers, vanilla wafers, and granola bars. Bring out the indulgent treats on holidays and special occasions. This way, they make the special occasion more special.
As far as holidays go, we all tend to indulge, but it’s best to do so after eating a meal rather than in place of one.
No one has to be perfect, but we can try to encourage good habits.
The Epoch Times: What’s your favorite holiday treat?
Ms. Nissenberg: I used to crave sweets during the holidays, whether homemade cookies or cinnamon rolls, candied nuts, or warm apple pie. And although I do love eating a small treat following a holiday meal, my taste buds have changed as I’ve gotten older, and I enjoy appetizers probably more. I love a warm baked brie or artichoke-spinach dip, fresh cranberry sauce, or even fancy coffee drink.
If I had to choose a favorite go-to treat, my preference goes toward chocolate-mint and chocolate-peanut butter combinations—candies, cream pies, ice cream.
But as far as desserts go, I always incorporate fruit and encourage others to do so as well. You can make fruit kabobs for a younger crowd, or even a chocolate or caramel dipping sauce to accompany it to make it more of a treat.
Interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
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