“Don’t let your children be part of a lost generation who cannot cook, has no idea where their food comes from or how to prepare a balanced meal.” – Jamie Oliver
Developing a ‘food culture’ in your household is one of the key foundations for both raising food-loving kids and also strengthening social bonds with them ahead of them entering the teen years.
We teach our kids to read and write, yet many children have no education around food. Kids are not born knowing how to nourish themselves – so it is up to us as parents to show them – to give them a food education. Developing a food culture in your family creates a family with close bonds, one that shares many things, including a passion, understanding and love of real food.
Developing a food culture in your family is anything but tricky or time-consuming. Here are 10 simple things you can do to develop your family’s food culture:
1. TALK ABOUT FOOD, WHERE IT IS FROM AND HOW IT MAKES YOU FEEL
I often quiz my kids about food eg. what a fruit or vegetable is called or what flavours they can taste in a meal I’ve made. Even if they have overindulged in junk food at a party and end up with a stomach ache, I gently encourage them to make the connection that their food choices may have made them feel that way.
2. GROW FOOD
If you have the space and inclination to grow food, even a few herbs in a pot, it is a great way for kids to learn about food and where it comes from.
3. SHOP FOR FOOD TOGETHER
Kids of all ages can get involved in shopping for food, bagging fruits and vegetables. I’ve found giving my kids tasks at the shops (like “Go pick me 10 apples” or “Get a big tub of yoghurt”) not only teaches them what foods are but keeps them busy so they are less likely to moan. It’s a win win.
4. PLAN THE WEEK’S MEALS TOGETHER
Give your kids a say in the weekly menu. Perhaps let them request one meal a week and if they are old enough, they can cook it too.
5. SPEND TIME IN THE KITCHEN TOGETHER
A lot of parents get caught up in the notion that cooking with kids is messy, stressful and time-consuming. Spending time with your kids in the kitchen does not have to be any of these things. Any involvement is good and should be encouraged by parents, but left up to kids as to how involved they get. Often I’ll prepare a meal, but ask my kids to simply get me the ingredients from the pantry or wash or chop a few items. If they continue to want to help, great. If not, then that’s okay too. Even if they just do something as simple as tossing a salad they have contributed and any contribution is good for building a food culture.
6. ENJOY A MEAL TOGETHER
A read a quote the other day that said, “Families that eat together, stay together”. Certainly family meals matter in so many ways. A Harvard study confirmed that children who enjoyed dinner together with their family most days were also more likely to consume more fruit and vegetables and generally have a higher intake of nutrients. Another study proposed that sharing just three meals a week reduced the odds of children becoming overweight adults by 12 per cent.
7. SHARE THE DAY
The health benefits of eating together as a family extends beyond the physical. Dining together as a family is a time we socialise and communicate with our loved ones. As parents, we not only demonstrate the values of healthy eating (hopefully) but teach social values, table manners and the art of conversation. It’s when we often learn how our kid’s day was, the good and the not-so-good experiences. This is so simple but so very important for the health of the family unit. Studies have confirmed that sharing meals through the teen years will reduce the likelihood of the development of eating disorders and depression, as well as children being less likely to smoke, drink alcohol or try illicit drugs.
8. TALK ABOUT THE DELICIOUS MEAL
Whilst eating, always discuss some part of the meal eg. how delicious it is. Also engage their senses every now and again. I sometimes challenge my kids to pick the ingredients in a meal.
9. BE GRATEFUL TOGETHER
Many studies support the notion that gratitude improves our health, relationships, emotions, personality and career. I think the dinner table is a wonderful place to share the things we are grateful for and teach this skill to your kids.
10. CLEAN UP TOGETHER
Clearing the table once everyone is finished is something most kids can manage from a very young age and something parents should encourage. As they get older, responsibilities among family members can be shared so if mum cooks, someone else cleans up. It’s not what you do for your kids that makes them successful adults, it’s what you teach them to do for themselves.
By simply incorporating a knowledge and passion for food into their lives, you can profoundly influence your family ties as well as your child’s interest and desire for whole foods. This lays the foundation for a lifetime of health, happiness and enjoyment of simple whole foods. What an amazing gift.