One the best parts of my childhood on and near the Kansas farm country was the incredible education I got when visiting relatives who grew and harvested so many good foods. We would all gather when it was time to put these foods away for winter. Often, we would prepare things for the root cellar they had in their basements. Dark, cool places where foods that were canned or cured could last a very long time. I always thought it was very mysterious to have these things put away for a snowy day. The longer they sat the more delicious they became.
These canned meats, pickles, fruits, and all kinds of vegetables have become a part of my everyday diet today. I think it is possible that my appreciation for foods and nutrition began during these very early formative days. And, it was very fun to see foods brought in from the fields and prepared in several different ways for many months into the future.
Kids today may not have the same opportunities to stock a root cellar, but they can be taught what makes for good foods in more modern ways. For example, they can go with their parents to the farmer’s markets far into the fall to bring home and prepare by canning or freezing or just eating fresh. Seeing foods that have just come out of the ground is a golden asset of appreciation that far outways the selection of a bagged vegetables from the grocer’s freezer.
Once home, kids can be involved in cleaning, washing, and cutting up in the kitchen in ways that will not only preserve the food for longer periods of time, but also add to the cultural experience. Families that work together can make light work of the process and will also educate their children in ways of the future that can’t even be imagined at the time. Research has shown that young adults who have had experience in the kitchen will also be better prepared to shop and cook for themselves at a later date. Some can learn by just watching, but it is much better an experience to get actively involved early.
Kids can also be of assistance in the preparation of family-style meals. The setting of the table or preparing side dishes or cutting up ingredients for a stir-fry dish can be a lifelong training experience that will help them to build confidence for their future. They learn, by practice with their parents how foods go together and appreciate the final product much better if they have seen and participated in the preparation.
Often, parents don’t want to take the extra time in training. After all, it does take time, patience, and can result in a messy kitchen. That said, children too, build on their skills just like parents do, and can begin to take more responsibility for the meal. One of the easier skills that kids can learn is to begin choosing some of their own after school snacks. Some direction can come from suggestions as to what the snacks might be, and then letting the child choose from there. The more choices they have the better they will do in that ultimate selection process. Cutting up fruits and vegetables, selecting simple snacks like cheese and pretzels, can all help to enhance this early training, right in your own kitchen. Older children can also help younger children by this time; all a part of a dynamic process that is forever changing.
So little time is taken today for parents to really experience the special bonding that can happen while preparing meals together as a family. It is worth a try, and often parents are quite surprised by the outcome. Meals can be better prepared, more tasty, and contain better nutrition. And, at the same time you are sharing wonderful quality time together as a family.
For questions on family centered eating, please contact Rita Larsen. She has a program, “All in the Family” that you may want to consider attending with your family members.
Written by Rita Larsen, RDN, CD; Elite Sports Clubs Nutrition Educator & Diet Counselor
Rita is certified in Positive Psychology, University of Penn; has a BS in Dietetics from Kansas State University; and an Internship and Masters at the Indiana University Medical Center.Schedule a Nutrition Consultation