Home Cooking and Childhood Obesity


Nearly from birth, American kids are inundated with ads for foods that send their taste buds into overdrive but don’t do them any nutritional favors. Parents can’t do much about that. Closer to home, parents have some say about what their kids are served by school lunch programs, as an increasing number of activists have proven.

Still, home is the place where parents have the most control over what children eat, and the wisest begin exercising their power early, during the all-too-brief period of childhood when Mom and Dad seem like heroes, and when imitation is the sincerest form of love. Just like any other young animal, a human child watches its elders for clues on how to live and what to do.

We like to think of food as all good — it’s necessary for life, it helps us grow, and it provides both sensory and emotional satisfaction. But the desirability of food is a coin with two sides. As we have seen, Dr. Pretlow is very concerned with the potential for addiction, because addiction to hyperpalatable foods has been shown to be as real as pathological dependency on any other fatally attractive substance. And just like any other disease, addiction is better prevented than cured.

Can home cooking prevent food addiction? It’s worth a try. Can home cooking prevent childhood obesity? Yes. Especially when it’s initiated early. A little kid can sit in a high chair, snacking on veggies, watching a parent cook from scratch using healthful ingredients, and storing up mental pictures that form the basis for the habits of later life. A bigger kid can help, and learn.

These are the words of Katie Workman, editor-in-chief of Cookstr.com and author of The Mom 100 Cookbook: 100 Recipes Every Mom Needs in Her Back Pocket:

There are so many practical and amazing reasons why you should teach your kids to cook. The most obvious is that if you don’t, in short order they will find themselves with a takeout menu in their hands, or on line at a supermarket with a cart of frozen food or prepared meals…

Workman has made it her mission to empower parents to pass along vital cooking skills, in order to ensure a healthier future for their kids. Her philosophy is explained by Kat Kinsman, managing editor of Eatocracy, who quotes Workman on the virtues of starting early:

Like any skill, the older you get, the more difficult it is to learn. They will understand and appreciate food in a deeper way, they will be comfortable in the kitchen, they will develop broader palates, and they will be able to entertain people, which is an undervalued and ever-shrinking asset. You will be giving them a new place to discover things and be creative. They will learn math, multiplication and fractions.

On the ability of children to learn cooking skills, and the value of learning them, Workman draws a parallel with computer skills. Young children pick up knowledge of technology at an astonishingly young age, and soon become comfortable and competent within that world. The same can happen in the kitchen. Aside from the purely nutritional benefits, Workman suggests several other reasons why parents would do well to teach their children cooking skills.

Most obviously, it’s an opportunity for family quality time, and the example and the habits have a very good chance of being passed along to the next generation. What a great way to leave a mark on the future world, a fine legacy indeed.

The teaching opportunities in other areas are boundless. Peeling potatoes can be the occasion for a history lesson on the Irish famine, its causes and results, or an exploration of why they have 4,000 different varieties of potato in Peru.

Kinsman passes along one of the helpful hints gleaned from studying Workman’s ideas:

Just make a deal with the whole family to agree upon one – just one – new fruit, vegetable, spice or grain each time you go to the grocery store, and make that the lesson for the week. Study up on its origins, nutritional benefits, cultural importance, cooking methods and traditional dishes and make it the star for one meal. They might not all be hits, but you as a family can decide which ones are crowned king of the kitchen and which are sent straight to the dungeon.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Get your kids into the kitchen and feed them for life,” Eatocracy on CNN.com, 02/17/12
Image by PaulSteinJC (Paul Stein), used under its Creative Commons license.

2 Responses

  1. Very good points, and Excellent advice about involving kids in cooking at home… it will teach them many things, other than just how to prepare a meal. Many good life lessons here.

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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