TORONTO - Parents recognize cooking is an important life skill for their children, but when it comes right down to it, many say they don't know where to start or fear it will be too time-consuming to teach kids during the hectic supper hour.
Yet by making sure kids know their way around the kitchen, parents are helping them gain the confidence and skills for a lifetime of healthy eating habits, say registered dietitians at the Dairy Farmers of Canada. They've developed a new website (www.familykitchen.ca) with tips, videos and recipes to help parents get started.
In a two-part survey conducted last spring by Research Management Group, 600 parents in Ontario of children aged 10 to 12 were asked online if they were cooking as a family and, if so, what they were doing. Dietitians then observed eight Ontario families found by the research group in their home, some who cooked as a family and some who didn't.
"What we found was that generally parents were not cooking with their kids," said Heidi Boyd, a registered dietitian with Dairy Farmers of Canada. "When we asked them about whether they thought it was important for kids to learn to cook and particularly if it was important for them to know when they were on their own how to prepare meals for themselves, parents definitely valued that."
But parents seemed to place more emphasis on other abilities like study skills, team building and money management, the survey found.
"Because of all of those other demands on their time, teaching their kids to cook fell by the wayside," Boyd added.
The main barrier to getting their kids involved in cooking cited by 77 per cent of parents was a lack of time, while 38 per cent of parents voiced safety fears.
"They were concerned about them cutting or burning themselves," said Boyd, who is based in Georgetown, Ont. A smaller number of parents (six per cent) said they felt it was part of their role as a parent to cook food for their families and saw the kitchen as their domain, she added.
Boyd said there were parents who acknowledged that they didn't teach their kids to cook because they hadn't acquired culinary skills while growing up.
"Kids who are invited into the kitchen, who are cooking together, are more likely to try new foods, eat a variety of foods, potentially eat healthier now, but more importantly what we're thinking about is what's going to happen to these kids when they're out on their own," Boyd said.
The website is designed to inspire confidence in parents and children and includes tasks, tips and recipes provided for beginner, intermediate and advanced levels.
She said the dietitians found that kids aged 10 to 12 want to get into the kitchen. They see it as creative and fun.
"Parents are really surprised at how capable their kids are, how much they can do, how interested they are."
It's never too early to start, they stress. Youngsters can handle simple tasks that don't involve the stove or knives, such as stirring. As they get older, they can peel vegetables or fruit, then they can learn how to cut it up. Gradually they'll move on to recipes they can handle on their own, such as guacamole.
Initially parents are supervising, but as the kids gain more confidence at the intermediate level the parents become the assistants. Advanced children can be challenged with new cooking techniques or by putting their own spin on a recipe they've made before.
Boyd has a two-year-old boy, "so this is exciting for me to think about how kids can get in the kitchen at any age. He's already getting his hands dirty."
For those who worry having children underfoot will hamper meal preparation during a hectic weekday, Boyd said it can end up saving time in the long run with everyone working together.