Friday, December 5, 2014

Want Kids to Eat Better? Get Them Cooking

Getting kids involved in the kitchen, through cooking classes or at home, may make them more likely to choose healthy foods, according to a recent review.

Cooking programs and classes for children seem to positively influence children’s food preferences and behaviors, according to the new research. And, although the review didn’t look at long-term effects of such programs, the findings suggest that such programs might help children develop long-lasting healthy habits.

“It’s important to expose children to healthy foods in a positive way,”vsaid Derek Hersch, the lead author of the study who also works with a cooking education program called Food Explorers at the Minnesota Heart Institute Foundation.

This research comes at a time when childhood obesity rates have been rising rapidly. More than one-third of adolescents in the United States were obese in 2012, according to the US 
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This trend has been caused, at least in part, by a significant decrease in the amount of meals that people consume at home since the 1980s, according to background information in the study. People are more likely to eat at restaurants, where meals are more calorie-dense and less nutritious, the study noted.

Sara Haas, a spokesperson with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, noted that time is a factor. “It has a lot to do with eating more convenience foods because parents are lacking time, and may not have learned to cook healthy meals,” she said.

Cooking education programs, such as Food Explorers, teach children about new healthy foods and how to prepare them. They also stress the importance of eating five fruits and vegetables every day. A volunteer parent explains a new food to the group, and the kids make something based on the lesson, such as fruit skewers or spinach salad. Depending on the program, kids may be sent home with information about healthy food to bring to their parents, the review explained.

Hersch and his study team reviewed eight other studies that tested different types of cooking education programs. Children in these classes were between 5 and 12 years old, according to the review. Hersch’s goal was to learn more about developing an efficient program to encourage healthy food choices that last a lifetime.

Because each study was designed somewhat differently, it was difficult for the researchers to make any strong conclusions. However, some of the trends the researchers saw included increased consumption of fruits, vegetables and dietary fiber, a greater willingness to try new foods and increased confidence in the ability to prepare foods.

Both Hersch and Haas emphasized the importance of getting parents involved in their children’s eating habits. Parents who are unable to enroll their kids in a cooking class can achieve similar benefits by having their kids help them while they prepare meals at home, Hersch noted. Children are more comfortable at home, which makes them more receptive to new foods because they will make the connection to a positive experience, according the Hersch.

This is a great idea and was the norm in most families until the 1980s when fast food became popular. My mother taught me to cook, which served me well through college and even today when my wife works a long day.

Last week my wife hosted Thanksgiving dinner for the first time in over 20 years of marriage. She walked my daughter through every step of the process starting two days earlier. She learned how to make the roasted root vegetables, the brine to soak the turkey, stuffing (of course), green bean casserole, corn bread, apple pie and even her secret cheesecake recipe. This 14 year old was totally engaged. I’ll remember this Thanksgiving forever and I just watched the process. When I ran across this study released on Thanksgiving, I knew I had to bring to your attention.

Teach your kids to cook. They will be healthier, happier, and just better adults from the process and you’ll be a better parent as well.

Source: National Institutes of Health –Thursday, November 27, 2014

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