Thinking of doing a home-cooked meal this Christmas? If so, rope your kids into participating. The side benefits of the exercise will last longer than the meal itself.
One of the keys in keeping kids eating healthy into adulthood are in fact integrating them into the kitchen at a young age. Kate Comeau, a spokesperson for Dieticians for Canada, notes that the earlier children start learning skills in the kitchen, the healthier they tend to be as adults.
This sentiment is also echoed by WCOMPANY’s Executive Chef Waldemar Bilski, who runs a kitchen event venue where he hosts private dinners and custom cooking classes for all levels of cooks, from beginners to gourmet lovers.
“Children’s palates are being developed at a young age, where they begin to associate, recognize and appreciate flavors,” he said. Food education should begin at home, and parents need to recognize that every day is a chance for them to teach their children to learn to appreciate and work with food.
Chef Bilski came to Canada four years ago, and left Germany at the age of 21 to study in the culinary arts. He recalls his childhood memories of his sisters and him helping their mother cook on a regular daily basis, four to five times a week.
“Every Saturday, my mom baked a different cake,” he said. She shopped daily for fresh vegetables and fruit, and they were there to help unpack the groceries as soon as it came through the door.
Processed foods in the grocery stores were limited to three types of chips, crackers and a few pre-mixed salads. He acknowledges that things are definitely different here now, in North America, where the number of convenience and fast food aisles have outnumbered the fresh food aisles in many supermarkets.
Food Challenges Abound
“It’s often easier for people to go out and eat a meal at a restaurant than buy single ingredients that cost more than it would to go out,” he noted. He underlies the important role that parents play in initiating their children’s food education at home – so when they grow up, and move out of the house, they too realize there are a whole world of food choices other than fast food options at their fingertips.
“Food is meant to be enjoyed… and real food appreciation should start as young as possible. But this also means that a generational appreciation needs to be present.”
Since teaching cooking classes in the Lower Mainland for the past four years, he’s noted his largest cohort of clients are in their 40’s to 60’s, when they begin to really appreciate and explore food.
In Vancouver, he sees a younger crowd in their 30’s take his classes, and hopes that the trend continues onward. There is almost always one person in his class who has a set of knives in their kitchen that have remain untouched as they don’t really know what to cook, and beyond that, how to cook.
One of the simplest and most effective tips he’s provided in his cooking classes is to prepare in advance for the week. If you can spend a portion of one evening chopping, slicing and dicing a variety of vegetables, for instance – you can make a quick, different stir-fry a few nights in a row without getting bored of the ingredients you’ve got in stock.
With the familiar story of Canada’s rising childhood obesity rates – at almost a third of adolescents pegged at an unhealthy weight back in 2007 – this Christmas, it may well be worth considering providing small doses of time and patience of cooking skills with your kids, right in your home kitchen.
By Joscelyne Yu