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Kids love to cook, and given a chance, they would be playing around in the kitchen. And why not? Cooking is creative, messy, and fun, and it tickles all the senses.

On top of that, your efforts are rewarded with something that’s (hopefully) delicious to eat. And cooking can deliver some additional benefits. Spending time in the kitchen can help kids develop an appreciation for healthy foods and foster better eating habits.

The significance of this really shouldn’t be overlooked. In the last few decades, obesity and overweight rates among American kids have risen dramatically. This is a reflection, in part, of a diet that includes too many calories and nutrient-poor foods and too little in the way of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and calcium-rich dairy products.

The Many Benefits of Cooking with Kids

Meals eaten away from home are higher in calories, fat, and saturated fat, and they provide less calcium and fiber than home-prepared meals. On the other hand, eating more meals at home is associated with a higher intake of fruits, vegetables, and dairy products with less fat and calories.

So, grab the kids and make healthy eating a new tradition. Here are a few more benefits of making home-cooked meals with your kids:

1. Developing an appreciation for healthy foods

If parents can serve as good role models with their food choices, their kids will more likely follow along. Cooking and eating together help kids appreciate healthy foods.

2. Encouraging kids to try new foods

Kids enjoy eating what they’ve prepared. When kids are involved in the selection of ingredients and preparation of foods, they’re more likely to try their creations. The cooking experience will help to cultivate an open mind when it comes to trying new foods.

3. Boosting their self-esteem

Kids derive a sense of pride and independence when they cook. Kids love to boast that “I did it all myself!” When they’re able to prepare something on their own, no matter how simple, and then serve it to family, it boosts their self-esteem. Help your kids by guiding them toward age-appropriate recipes.

4. Tapping on their creative side

Once kids have some basic skills and learn to follow recipes, they should be encouraged to get creative. You can start with a simple basic recipe. Once they’ve come up with their own recipes, many kids enjoy creating their own recipe file.

5. Encouraging family bonding

Spending time together in the kitchen can be fun and relaxing for both kids and adults. Many kids don’t need much coaxing to join you in the kitchen, so use this time to simply enjoy each other’s company and talk about how good — and good for you — your meal is going to be.

6. Enhancing fine motor skills

Letting your kids get involved in activities such as stirring, mixing the ingredients, rolling the dough or, for older children, chopping vegetables is a great way to enhance their fine motor strength, control, and eye-hand coordination.

7. Increasing Focus and Attention

Cooking involves following recipes and steps correctly in order to get to the delicious, final product. When cooking, children learn to pay attention to each detail. They learn quickly, and they have to focus if they want to eat that snack or meal at the end!

Susan Bowerman, M.S., RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND –Sr.Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training

Susan BowermanM.S., RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND – Sr. Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training

Susan Bowerman earned a B.S. in biology with distinction from the University of Colorado, and received her M.S. in food science and nutrition from Colorado State University. She is a registered dietitian, holds two board certifications from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as a certified specialist in sports dietetics, and a certified specialist in obesity and weight management, and is a Fellow of the Academy.