6 ways to get kids excited about cooking and healthy eating

May 14 is Food Revolution Day, a Jamie Oliver campaign to get kids turned on to cooking healthy food from scratch. Photo: LilyWhitesParty (via Flickr) Creative Commons License 2.0

May 14 is Food Revolution Day, a Jamie Oliver campaign to get kids turned on to cooking healthy food from scratch.
Photo: LilyWhitesParty (via Flickr)
Creative Commons License 2.0

May 16, 2014 marks the third international Food Revolution Day led by iconic British chef, TV personality, restaurateur, author and healthy food activist Jamie Oliver. Celebrating the importance of cooking good food from scratch, the campaign aims to inspire kids and adults with a love of food and an appreciation of cooking as a fun, life-altering skill that makes us healthier and happier. It’s also a catalyst for local cooking events and activities around the world, such as the cooking demos for kids slated for the Ottawa Farmers Market on Sunday, May 18.

Because of overreliance on hyper-processed convenience foods, many people lack the basic skills and confidence to prepare their own food and their health suffers as a result, Oliver says. He points to soaring rates of obesity among young people which in turn increase their risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other diet-related illnesses.

To mark Food Revolution Day, Earthward talked to Judi Varga-Toth, an Ottawa chef and local food activist who has held workshops on healthy eating with kids and adults and turned her own five children on to good, fresh food. For a number of years, she owned and operated an eco-catering service called Credible Edibles that prepared tasty, healthy, plant-based meals for meetings, schools and daycare.  (Try one of her recipes.)

Here are her tips on getting kids excited about eating and cooking good food.

  1. Get them involved! Whether you forage for fiddleheads with your kids or take them to a farmers’ market, find ways for them to connect with food – where it’s grown and who grows it. They’re more likely to eat and enjoy what they’ve prepared themselves, so involve them in the process from start to finish. Have them choose a few fresh ingredients and google recipes; then help them pick something simple like a salad or snack that they can put together with just a few utensils. Preparing food from scratch offers lots of teaching moments, Judi says. For example, kids get to practice using basic math skills (measuring ingredients) and making more conscious choices about food. They also benefit from the chance to do research on the foods and recipes they’re working with. For example, what vitamins and minerals are in these ingredients? Where are they grown? What’s the cultural background of this food?
  1. Turn healthier eating into a game or contest. A blind taste test is a great way to motivate kids to move outside their comfort zone. Let’s say your kids like cucumber but won’t try zucchini. With a blindfold on, they may not be able to taste a difference between the two vegetables and will have discovered for themselves that there’s no reason to shun zucchini.
  1. Surprise them. Get kids excited about broader food issues, such as eating in ways that are gentler on the planet, by piquing their curiosity. For example, in one of her workshops, Judi Varga-Toth asked children where the garlic in the grocery store came from. They were surprised when she explained that most of it is from China, and even more surprised when she added that Eastern Ontario is a prime garlic-growing region. One of the children asked: “If we grow it here, why do we get so much from China?” Kids get it, Judi says – sometimes better than adults do.
  1. Walk the talk. Don’t expect kids to eat healthier or dabble in cooking if they see you scarfing down fast food most nights. As much as possible, try to eat fresh whole foods, cook with your kids, and eat together as a family.
  1. Check out online resources. For example the Canadian Produce Marketing Association (CPMA) developed the Freggie™ Children’s Program as part of their overall efforts to encourage consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. Elements include an in-school program to help children understand the benefits of choosing fresh fruits and veg and other healthy foods.
  1. Don’t give up. It can take a while for kids to change a habit, just as it is for us. Give them time and be patient – odds are good they’ll grow to appreciate good food and to value the cooking skills you’ve helped them develop.

For more on Food Revolution Day, visit FRD event pages on Facebook, or follow the campaign on Twitter: @foodrev, Youtube or Instagram: @foodrev 

Tweet about your own FRD activities, using hashtag #FRD2014.


Do your kids like to cook? How did you encourage them to get started?


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