Kids and the Preparation of Food, Part 2

2011 Korean-American Family and Children Cultural Tour

Recently, Childhood Obesity News discovered that some very smart people consider the ability to prepare nutritious meals as more valuable knowledge for young people than algebra or the works of Greek playwright Euripides.

Small children, we pointed out, are little imitation machines — they like to do what the grownups do because, as eons of evolutionary instinct informs them, that is the way to survive. So the responsibility of adults, especially parents, is to set the kind of example that actually will help children survive and thrive.

Teenagers are (with rare exceptions) different. Often, they’re quite contrary. They want to do the exact opposite of what the grownups are doing, because it’s the natural right of teenagers to be (or at least to believe they are) sharper, more up-to-date, hipper, and just generally all-round superior to adults. About teenagers, The Huffington Post writer Rozanne Gold says:

They have become zealots about vegetarianism, about sustainability, about carbon footprints, and social responsibility, and they have begun to wag their fingers at many of their parents’ irresponsible habits.

Gold seems to suggest that parents can capitalize on that tendency by playing along with it. And it’s not a bad idea. For instance, if a teen comes home ranting about the evils of meat consumption and vowing to become a vegetarian for life, a parent might be tempted to play devil’s advocate and start handing out warnings about the danger of protein deficiency, and so on. But the better course is to resist that temptation and just stifle yourself. First, a teenager’s vow to quit eating meat probably won’t last forever, so if you’re worried about that, time will take care of it.

Strive to forget about bringing any negativity into such a discussion. Even if the child is preaching to the choir, echoing back beliefs that you have tried to instill but they never heard it when you said it, and only paid attention when it came from another source, just let them lay all this supposedly new knowledge on you. If a kid gets enthusiastic about any kind of positive action, the last thing you want to do is throw a monkey wrench into the works. Instead, make the very intelligent move of saying, “Really? Tell me more.”

Let the kid be the expert who brings enlightenment to the benighted old fogies. Don’t trot out your own knowledge of fruits and nuts, or bring up the time when you went veggie for six months in college. Just pay attention, and start making a list of the fresh produce the kid wants you to pick up at the grocery store. You want to catch that wave of vegetable enthusiasm and ride it for all it’s worth.

Getting back to Gold, she has a number of interesting suggestions about how cooking can be a communal activity for teenagers, a form of social networking that does not involve sitting on their butts staring at a screen. It’s a real-life, real-time way of spending time together that produces tangible and beneficial results. She goes on to say:

I believe that if teens started cooking together, and then eating together, there’s a good chance they could teach their parents how to eat better, and thereby to address our national obesity crisis.

So check out her ideas about “cooking as a teen sport.” Gold also reminds us that the very esteemed Dr. Marion Nestle believes that teaching kids to cook is the best way to get people of all ages eating more healthfully. Dr. Nestle, by the way, particularly recommends three books about cooking, eating, and kids.

And speaking of cookbooks, a free downloadable one is available from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Deliciously Healthy Family Meals includes recipes for “fruits, veggies, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products; lean meat, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts.”

Kat Kinsman reminds us of how empowering it can be for a young person to know his or her way around a kitchen. This is especially true for a child who doesn’t particularly shine in any other area. She or he may not be a star on the playing field or in theatrical productions, but this same kid can master of the art of preparing delicious and nutritious meals. When confidence is raised in one area of life, the good effects carry over into other areas with unforeseen and often surprising results.

The talents of the chef come in handy at camp, or staying with friends, or in a college dorm. Popularity is what most kids long for, and it can be cultivated by becoming a food ninja. The ability to cook can influence a person’s romantic life to an astonishing degree. When the young person starts thinking about a long-term relationship, the knowledge of how to cook a good healthful meal without spending a fortune can be a very attractive trait to a prospective life partner.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Something to Chew On: Cooking as a New Teen Sport,” The Huffington Post, 09/22/11
Source: “Get your kids into the kitchen and feed them for life,” Eatocracy on CNN.com, 02/17/12
Image by USAG-Humphreys, used under its Creative Commons license.

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