When was the last time your family experienced a memorable mealtime?
Sadly, memorable is not the word used to describe most American meals. We skip breakfast and lunch, then super-size supper. We eat fast and frenzied, and we rarely do it with our families. According to the National Restaurant Association, one- third of Americans say fast food or restaurant-prepared meals are essential to the way they live. And those rare times when we do eat at home? Two-thirds of us consume our food–it can hardly be called dining–in front of our television, according to the A.C. Nielsen Co.
We have sacrificed cooking for convenience. Old-fashioned memories, rituals such as saying grace, sit-down dinners, and family conversations have all but disappeared. Meal preparation often consists of quick entrees of dubious nutritional value. The late Julia Child believed food was much more than sustenance and children must be taught that cooking is akin to art. As a parent you may get inspired to see cooking through the eyes of Julia Child, “…as creative and as imaginative an activity as drawing, woodcarving, or music.”
“Children … learn to become obese in an environment that encourages it. If parents are eating poorly, that’s what they’re providing their children,” says Debra Haire-Joshu, RN, PhD, director of the Obesity Prevention Center at Saint Louis University School of Public Health. Haire-Joshu believes obesity is a family illness and to help children eat a moderate diet, parents must eat healthier first.
A new federally funded study, known as the Dietary Intervention Study in Children (DISC), provides the science to confirm what we have known all along–that families can learn to enjoy healthy foods and be selective about food choices. Parents can give their children access to healthy foods, encourage regular physical activity, and demonstrate good habits themselves. Funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), DISC is the first to test the effects of a low-fat regimen on growth and development in children with high blood cholesterol.
Some of the long-term healthy eating habits will translate into eating well and creating memorable mealtimes–like making smiley-face pancakes on a Saturday morning, picking fresh produce from a local garden, and finding backyard flowers for the pitcher on the table. Eating well can also include a creative table setting, good conversation, and a grateful heart for sharing time with family. Through cooking activities, food becomes a powerful learning tool, empowering kids and producing positive changes in the overall health and wellness of families both now and in the future.
Cooking may seem frivolous in this time-obsessed society, but the process stimulates creative family time and passes a legacy to our children by teaching the next generation the art of eating. Parents must know there is more to a healthy diet than just increasing veggie intake and reducing fast food stops. They need to be taught to create a healthy nutrition culture in their home, to teach their children to love food, and to not be afraid to let kids experiment in the kitchen. Kids need to experience foods hands on–taste, touch, and smell as they go–listen to the sizzling, bubbling, and crunching.
Lynn Fredericks is a mother and business owner/founder of FamilyCook Productions based in New York City. Fredericks has conducted hundreds of school- and community-based interventions over the last 10 years aimed at promoting positive dietary changes in families and children starting in New York City and expanding across the United States through her family workshops and school-based programs.
FamilyCook is on a mission to bring families together around delicious, fresh food while helping parents find creative ways to balance opposing needs and time constraints that are a fact of modern family life. Fredericks is now seeing this goal realized: Moms are beginning to get out of the convenience habit of buying fast food or unhealthy frozen meals. Precut veggies in the supermarket and other short cuts that make “from scratch” more doable are a positive trend. According to Fredericks, this helps parents, who still perceive cooking as time-consuming, buy into the idea that getting kids to help in the kitchen is a path to less picky kids and less stressed parents.
The first two stages of including children in the entire process of making a meal are Don’t worry about the mess, and Don’t worry about how long it will take to cook.
FamilyCook’s 10 years of field testing confirms that children do love to cook; if kids prepare food, they will try it; learning about food and preparing it empowers families to take positive control over their diet; and multicultural food study is celebratory and promotes well-being and a desire to recreate the experience with family and friends.
As a parent, take the challenge to return meaning to the mealtime experience and ultimately help reverse the trend of childhood obesity. Consider getting involved with your local community and school system to make food literacy a priority in education and incorporate the study of food and nutrition via a hands-on multidisciplinary approach. Get involved in the nutrition education process with fun, hands-on learning experiences with their children.
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