My 10-year old daughter, Abbey, loves to cook. Last year for Christmas, she asked for either a puppy or a KitchenAid stand mixer. That appliance is a bit of an investment’but since I definitely wasn’t ready for a puppy, a stand mixer it was! It is now a permanent fixture on our counter and is a symbol of Abbey’s confidence and efficiency in the kitchen.
This year, a pasta machine is at the top of Abbey’s wish list. I’m thrilled!
As a dietitian, I’m a huge fan of encouraging kids to roll up their sleeves and experiment in the kitchen. And I’m definitely not alone in that. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in the U.S. stresses the importance of cooking and food preparation skills as a strategy to help prevent childhood obesity. When kids know how to cook, they are more likely to eat more fruit and vegetables, whole grains and fibre, and to rely less on eating unhealthy foods.
What I find truly inspiring are the initiatives and campaigns going on around the world focusing on improving children’s culinary skills.
Take U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama. This past summer, as part of her Let’s Move! campaign to solve the problem of childhood obesity, she hosted the second annual Kids’ State Dinner at the White House. This special dinner featured the winning healthy-lunch creations from a selection of more than 1,300 recipes submitted by kids age eight to 12.
Here in Canada, kudos go to Paul Finkelstein, whom you probably already know as one of Best Health’s regular contributors. He has connected with hundreds of students through his culinary club and student-run Screaming Avocado café at Stratford Northwestern Secondary School in Stratford, Ont. Now in its 10th year, the café serves more than 300 healthy lunches every day made from scratch by the students.
Also on the school front is internationally renowned chef and restaurateur Susur Lee, a big supporter of the My Food My Way pilot program at Thistletown Collegiate Institute in Toronto. The program aims to educate and empower students to create new menu ideas for the cafeteria and to develop a healthy relationship with food. Lee recently hosted an educational workshop for the school’s culinary student ambassadors at his restaurant Lee in downtown Toronto.
There are many more national and international role models I could name, but one of them has to be Jamie Oliver. Famous for his school nutrition revolution in the U.K. and his dedication to get people cooking, the passionate chef has just partnered with Sobeys stores in Canada. As part of the grocer’s Better Food For All campaign, Oliver plans to champion enhanced food knowledge, balanced nutrition, quality ingredients and cooking skills for Canadians.
How you can be a nutrition hero
It doesn’t take a celebrity or chef to be a nutrition hero to children. You can get your kids hooked on healthy cooking and healthy eating. Start by asking them to leaf through some magazines or cookbooks to find recipes they want to try, and then shop for the ingredients together. Give your son or daughter a kitchen gadget or cookbook for the holidays, take a cooking class together or create your own cookbook of family favourites. The best gift of all is hanging out in the kitchen together’making a mess and enjoying a delicious meal!