Next time your child plays with his mashed potatoes and peas, he may just be demonstrating his creativity. "Kids express themselves with food," explains Sandra Nissenberg, a registered dietitian and author of several books on children's nutrition. Most children show an interest in cooking as young as age two—the key is to find the best ways to get them involved in the kitchen and food preparation.
While it can be hard to relax and let your child jump in and help, it's important to think about the big picture rather than the crumbs on the floor. Carol Williams, a registered dietitian at Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, points out that getting into food sometimes means getting messy—and that's OK. "Exploring is very different from playing with food. Touch is a sense used to help get unfamiliar foods closer to a child's mouth."
Nissenberg adds, "Just remember that messes can always be cleaned up, but memories last a lifetime. Don't be afraid to have fun with food."
The pros agree: the more parents encourage their children to interact with food and its preparation, the more likely kids are to enjoy it in a healthy way as they grow.
Wondering how you can introduce your little one to the joys of food and cooking? Take a look at our fun, nutritious list of tips to get you and your child in the kitchen. Then don your aprons, roll up your sleeves, and get cooking!
Tips for Having Healthy Fun with Food
- Scoop cottage cheese into a plain ice cream cone. Then let your child decorate with fruit, granola, or raisins for a healthy, fun-to-eat treat.
- Wrap it up! Ordinary sandwiches get rave reviews when they're wrapped in tortillas, cheese, or lunchmeat. For an extra twist, cut wraps into finger-food pinwheels.
- For kids, everything tastes better as a kabob. Use craft sticks (they have nice, blunt ends) or straws to make fruit, veggie, even pasta kabobs.