If you have small kids and a fruitful garden, get into the habit of gardening with them as well as picking from your harvest to place on the table. One of the best things you can do for your family’s health is to cook at home—and bonus points if it’s from your garden. There are many benefits when you garden and cook with your kids. Here are six benefits to from getting them involved with gardening and cooking:
1. Food as medicine
Nutritious eating and physical activity (gardening) are powerful tools for mental physical and emotional health. Dietary choices can strengthen or weaken our body’s ability to fight diseases. During the winter months or during a pandemic like COVID-19, making healthy choices is imperative. Plus, spending more time at home can provide a great opportunity to foster better family food and eating habits – and get your kids into the kitchen with you.
Your child can learn many lessons while gardening and cooking with you such as STEAM (science, technology, engineering art, and math). From exploring the garden, learning about the ecosystem (sunshine, water, and soil), the key stages of the life cycle of plants, exploring the flow of energy and inputs and outputs in the garden setting, learning how to create and run their own garden-centered business for a farmers market, to learning about food justice and how it impacts local and global communities.
3. Engage senses other than taste
Touching food and appreciating different textures helps kids become more comfortable with new foods. Have your child knead the dough, rip greens such as lettuce or kale, rinse fruits and vegetables, and sift flour through their fingers. Let them smell fragrant herbs or extracts such as mint, basil or vanilla. Expose them to an array of colors, and let them hear the crunch of fresh fruits and vegetables. And of course, tasting is the final sense to engage.
4. Safety First
Knowing your way around the kitchen and using safety precautions such as gloves, aprons, how to handle utensils, teach kids the importance of being careful and staying safe while cooking. Start with making sure everyone washes their hands. Teach them how to hold kitchen utensils safely, how to prevent burns with oven mitts, and how to safely use appliances, including turning them on and off. Always supervise children when cooking to ensure they are sticking with safe and age-appropriate tasks. The best way to keep cooking safe is to know your child's abilities and his or her stage of development
5. Encourage feedback
Help your child feel more included and excited about cooking by asking them to be part of the planning process by choosing recipes and meal preparation. Encourage them to be critics of meals you’ve shared, or to suggest other flavors or spices. Talk about planning a meal around people’s food allergies, how people have different taste preferences, and trying new foods is how we develop them. Rotate other meal-related tasks such as setting or clearing the table or washing dishes. Letting children be "in charge" of details like how to set the table will help them feel invested in mealtime.
6. Creating memories
Family meal preparation is an opportunity to celebrate your cultural heritage by passing down recipes. Help your kids find new, seasonal recipes to add to your repertoire and family cookbook. Cooking together and prioritizing health over the convenience of processed food are great ways to lead by example and help your children buy into a culture of wellness. Cooking with your child sets the stage for future cooking adventures and happy family memories in the kitchen.
How many of our fond memories are tied to the smell of freshly baked cookies or that one dish that only grandma could make? Children learn by touching, tasting, seeing, feeling, and listening. During cooking, all of the senses are engaged. This multisensory engagement is what makes experiences memorable. There is no time like the present to start these memories!