Yucky to Yummy: Getting Kids in the Kitchen

Obesity has become one of the greatest and most prevalent health risks in America. Not only are adults becoming more and more overweight but so are children. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), obesity occurrences among children and adolescents have almost tripled since the 1980s. Approximately 17% (12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2-19 years are obese. Along with the social stigma that comes with being overweight or obese, many health risks such as heart disease and type-2 diabetes follow. So why is this happening? The CDC indicates three main causes of this problem: access to fast food, lack of health education and screen time.

Childhood obesity is increasing all over America, and it’s also happening right here in New Mexico. The good news is that New Mexico is amongst the top ten states with the lowest obesity rates. There are many strategies and solutions to help reduce childhood obesity. Of these solutions, learning about nutrition and cooking at a young age can prevent unhealthy weight gain.

Aside from preventing obesity, learning about nutrition has a few other benefits. First off, when children learn about nutrition and how to eat properly they will likely have a healthier lifestyle. They may also begin preparing meals, which will make them more independent and will eliminate the need to choose fast food or junk food when someone is not around to cook for them.

Getting kids in the kitchen also creates a great opportunity for education about food, agriculture, how the body uses food, and even gardening and composting. It gets them engaged in food and cooking with family, which allows for more family involvement. There are many documented benefits to eating meals as a family.

So this all seems great, right? But you may be asking how can you get the fickle tummies of kids to enjoy healthy food? Well, there are quite a few ways actually. When kids are given the responsibility of creating their own meals, it makes them more excited. Other ways of getting them to eat and enjoy healthy food include:

  • Making food fun by cutting it in to cool shapes
  • Finding healthy/tasty products out there that you and kids will enjoy
  • Researching recipes that you think your kids will love, or getting them involved in the process of finding new recipes
  • Planting a garden that kids can take part in and develop a sense of ownership
  • Hiding veggies by putting them into a smoothie or a casserole (there are times when this is appropriate and when it is not)
  • Remembering to eat your veggies as well! Kids need to experience healthy eating by seeing it in action.

Here are some recipe ideas for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack that I have found to be effective.

Breakfast: Breakfast pizza
Lunch: Almond-crusted chicken fingers
Dinner: Falafel sandwiches
Snack: Dessert burrito

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There are many programs here in New Mexico that aid families in eating more healthfully and getting more involved in gardening and cooking. Here are some of the most successful programs going on right now:

  • Kid’s Cook! – Works with students and their families in Bernalillo County to educate them about culturally diverse foods by teaching meal preparation and nutrition classes. They have a great method of introducing new food to students that decreases their apprehension and increases their enthusiasm about healthy food choices.
  • Cooking with Kids – Offers hands-on nutrition education activities to Santa Fe students in kindergarten through 6th grade. They show students how to prepare and enjoy affordable food from around the world.
  • Eating SmART through the New Mexico Alliance for Children – Incorporates art, music, literacy, and gardening with healthy lifestyles in five New Mexican counties.
  • CHILE through UNM Prevention Research Center – Researches and works to develop a thorough obesity prevention program among American Indian and Hispanic children ages 3 to 5 enrolled in Head Start programs throughout New Mexico

These programs emphasize that “forcing” children to eat food is not the correct way to engage them in healthy lifestyles. Kids want to have fun! Adults want to have fun, too. So get out there and have fun! Eat well, live well!

Posted by Grace

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