Changing the eating habits of kids by cooking with them

Changing the eating habits of kids by cooking with them

by Laura Porter 14 April 2013

Is your child a fussy eater? Have you ever struggled to get them to eat a lovingly prepared meal? Laura shows how cooking regularly with your children could be the answer to these problems.

Laura Porter writes the London Travel site and fits in further freelance writing while sustaining an afternoon tea addiction to rival the Queen’s.

Laura Porter writes the London Travel site and fits in further freelance writing while sustaining an afternoon tea addiction to rival the Queen’s.

Children learn at an early age that while most of their life is controlled by an adult they can make some decisions about what they eat. Refusing to eat a lovingly prepared meal until the parent reaches for the packaged snacks and junk food gives them a sense of control. It may well be that the dinner would have been enjoyed but it wasn’t their decision.

Cooking together is not a chore. It shows you trust your children as they can perform tasks that go towards a final outcome that can be enjoyed by the whole family.

Keep it Simple

Cooking family meals together doesn’t need to be complicated. Choose dishes that most of the family already know and enjoy but tailor the meal to exactly what your family would prefer. For example, if peas go down well then add them to Spaghetti Bolognaise. If sweetcorn or mushrooms are preferred then add them instead. Of course, it’s also much easier to know the salt content of a meal if you have prepared it at home.

Don’t Worry About It

We all have to eat everyday so don’t worry if a meal doesn’t work out the way you hoped. My daughter and I have certainly cooked meals that we wouldn’t do again but we didn’t know that without trying.

Shop Together

If you don’t buy the unhealthy snacks then they are not in the house for temptation so shop together for the ingredients to make proper meals. Yes, you could buy a prepared lasagne but as we’ve seen in the news lately you don’t always know what the real ingredients are so it’s better to make your own.

Spend longer choosing fruit and vegetables and if the kids pick up something and ask what it is and you don’t know then find out and see what you can do with it for dinner that day. Get your children involved from an early age in choosing and preparing fruit and vegetables and make enjoying healthy food together completely normal. Making a fruit salad is one of the best ways to involve even very young children as they can cut fruit with plastic knives so it’s totally safe but they can create something their parents can enjoy with them for dessert or for breakfast.

Picky Eaters Are Not Healthy Eaters

Allowing your children to become picky eaters – maybe knowing you’re one too – is not great for their future health. Why let them miss out on trying new tastes just because you’re unsure? Go on, experiment together.

No Good or Bad Foods

Don’t reinforce the idea of good and bad foods as it only makes the rebellious side in us all want the naughty things. If you’ve prepared together a great soup and home-baked bread for your main meal then why not have a sweet treat too? We often make apple crumble with apples from our garden and I’ve never thought of it as a dish to avoid, simply one to have for dessert.

There was a fad for ‘hidden vegetables’ to try and encourage the 5 a day for younger children but instead of hiding good food take time to try lots of vegetables to see which ones your children like as it will likely surprise you. Try not to influence them or start bargaining with ‘eat your greens’ and you can have something nicer. While I’ve not convinced my daughter of the delights of Iceberg Lettuce she loves an array of red leaf lettuces as they look more appealing to her.

Grow Food

Picking apples from our garden is a wonderful way to show how food grows. If you are restricted by space you can have a windowsill herb garden and potatoes grow well in a bucket.


Children have the right to be children so helping with the cooking is not a job or task that earns them TV time. It can be part of your family’s lives without making the kids feel downtrodden. Even if they do start to really enjoy cooking you shouldn’t expect them to do everything as there are clearly hazards in the kitchen so it should be a collaborative affair. When making smoothies my daughter helps to fill the blender jug, I plug it in and make sure the lids on before she turns the dial. That’s the kind of thing I mean. Don’t leave the kids to prepare dinner and go and do something else, however busy you are, as you are still the responsible adult.


We sometimes forget that everyday a child learns something new. And that they want to. It helps them make sense of the world around them. Knowing how a dish is put together can be fascinating for children. It appeals to their thirst for knowledge and there are some great opportunities to work with numbers when weighing ingredients and to see science come alive when baking.

Eat Family Meals Together

Eating together should be part of family life but still many parents feed the kids and then mum and dad eat together after the kid’s bedtime. For a child, family meals are a comforting ritual. So what example do your children get when they see you washing up or chatting on the phone while they eat their dinner? How can they learn from you when you’re not eating together? It doesn’t show the importance of that time together both for the nourishment and the dedicated time to talk.

The NHS Change 4 Life campaign is a great way to change your family’s lifestyle for the better.

Apple growing on allotment
Apples in garden