Even when they were very young (about 2), I started teaching my kids about cooking. They loved being able to help, even if it only meant stirring something. I started with simple things that would not be as messy if it flew out of the bowl, but I also used a bigger bowl to make it easier for them.
Then as they got a little older, they were able to help with bigger things. By age 10 to 12, they were well on their way to being good cooks. Never discourage them, that will take away their desire to help.
I made sure they understood that cooking could be fun but was also a quiet time. Then we always made sure we would sit together, and try out the items we made even if it was only Koolaid and a sandwich to begin with. That was a most special time.
You will never regret the time you spent with you little ones. It seems like they grow up so fast. So start them when they are very eager to help you.
By Bev from Longview, WA
I love this idea of prepared-in-advance, individual servings for a child but mostly for introducing all sorts of healthy new veggies, fruits, and grains to a child, all the way up to age 4 or maybe even 5. I am suggesting to allow the child in on the making of their OWN left-overs-in the muffin tins, and with some on toast squares, some with rice mixtures, some with noodles, some with potato "nests", and a few with potatoes/layered veggies.
(If a parent works, do this on the weekend together. If a stay-at-home mom, seize the days to do the following. If several children, choose a day you can take each one individually to do this project.) After age 5, I find that patiently and individually letting them "help me" with all shopping, preparations, peeling, seasoning, cooking, that they will want to "taste the wonderful food they have prepared!" Hand them a salad fork or teaspoon, with a tiny bite at first. Let them feel that you will not force them to eat new things, "unless they help make it and like it.
One of the biggest surprises is small fresh "fuzzy" beets that have been washed and cooked whole with the little "mouse tail" and stem left on until done, to retain the color and best flavor. Then, cook just until tender to knife cutting, afterwards peel/slice and butter. Most 5-6 yr. olds love them. They can then make their own " mini-second helpings" for another meal/day. Tip: Don't mention the name of "leftovers", or the name of any new/old food much at all, (until afterward: "You know what you have made is called? And do you remember what it's made of?" They won't since you really haven't made a big deal of it yet, but you can tell them after all is approved of. Don't cook anything unless you know how to cook it/prepare it the best way, even if you have to call a relative/neighbor/friend to get advice. Take good notes. Just talk with your child at the store as you shop about how to "pick out a good one", how to pay for it, how to wash/peel it, cut, cook and taste it. Omitting the name until the child's eyes light up with the joy of "hands on" mom/dad time, and being a part of this memory making experience. These are the times that parents will never regret sacrificing, setting aside a few hours. It most always pays off with the child learning to eat healthy things.
All along the way, you can give them cooking safety lessons and never leave them alone in the kitchen even for a single minute. Don't allow a child under 10 to handle a paring knife to cut anything. Just show them how it's done, in case they've never taken the time to watch.
If you are at/driving through a restaurant, nudge and help the child to pick out the "healthiest" for them. With a quiet, gentle, "parent-child secret nod of approval or disapproval". Hopefully you don't go to a restaurant often. Why? Rent the video, "Supersize Me" and you will either go to the better places only, or limit how often you 'drive through' them.
As tweens and teens, they may drift away or get corrupted in their eating habits for one reason or another, but the seeds of truth/health are already planted.
If parents patiently take the time to do this at the right age, with a wide variety of foods, and not only live in the fast lane and pass on their own food hangups and poor choices, the child will repeat the same as the parents. If taught poor choices, they will likely have similar illnesses previously thought to be "inherited", but which were in fact just "learned behavior/poor choices". This can happen for many generations because of a lack of knowledge. This works with good choices as well, and is an ideal time to "reprogram" yourself if you need to, all for the healthier family/person. Do leave a legacy of good health and good judgment to your children. It's priceless. Life is priceless, so take care of yourselves.
By Lynda from TX