Kids in the Kitchen

|  Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
Kids in the Kitchen

Around the world, children face many challenges when it comes to proper nutrition. People often consider factors such as food availability, food costs, and cultural appropriateness as key determinants of whether a child experiences malnutrition.

One factor that is often overlooked is nutrition and food literacy. Food literacy encompasses the “knowledge, skills, and actions [needed] to determine, manage, pick up, prepare, and consume food”. This is different from nutrition literacy, which is “the degree to which a person can obtain, process, and grasp basic [nutrition] information to make healthy food choices”.

a group of kids in a kitchen wearing chef hats and aprons peeling papaya

Oscar in Bolivia and his classmates peel papaya, just one of many cooking skills developed in the classroom

Both are very important factors in determining dietary behaviours in the future. Research shows that low food and nutrition literacy was associated with “nutritional inadequacy” in school-aged children. This means they were less able to assess information to choose foods, comprehend food labels, and apply dietary recommendations.

Additionally, declining food skills contribute to poor dietary intake and increased rates of diet-related chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes. Children who are exposed to new foods, learn about seasonality and local foods and demonstrate food preparation skills have more diverse diets and have better overall health outcomes.

As an added bonus, food and nutrition literacy builds essential skills that boost self-esteem and prepare children for adulthood.


INDIGENOUS FOOD LITERACY

children in a school cafeteria wait in line for soup and dinner rollsWhen it comes to Indigenous communities in Canada, many children face a lack of knowledge concerning traditional food and food skills. Traditional knowledge and food skills among Indigenous youth in Canada have decreased over the past couple of decades due to the impacts of colonialism.

We know traditional foods are essential to Indigenous peoples’ health and culture, and contribute to physical, social and spiritual well-being. Harvesting and preparation activities bring the community together, help to maintain relationships, facilitate knowledge transfer, and support spiritual connections with the land. Thus, building food knowledge and skills for traditional foods in childhood is also imperative for healthier eating habits and overall health in the future.


GETTING CHILDREN INVOLVED

a mother and daughter smile while peeling and chopping green plantainSo, how do we promote food and nutrition literacy in children? There are many options!

  • Take children grocery shopping to learn about the seasonal availability of foods, how to meal plan and how to make and follow a grocery list.
  • For child educators, hosting international food days so children can learn about foods from other cultures, and having classes that teach skills such as gardening and basic food preparation can go a long way.
  • Ensuring children and youth know basic kitchen tools and equipment, as well as knowledge of pantry essentials and how to make basic meals with those is important for their success in the future.
  • Preparing and eating meals together as a family has many benefits. Studies have shown that eating together has positive effects on overall diet quality and results in lowered risk of disordered eating and diet-related disease in children.

CLASSROOM COOKING PROMOTES LITERACY ACROSS THE BOARD

a woman stands in a kitchen with two boys, cooking

Beverly teaches her students, Miles and Lelande, the importance of preparing your own food

At Canadian Feed The Children, our local partners in Canada and around the world promote food and nutrition literacy in children through nutrition education and land-based education. These classes aim to build children’s cooking skills, increase their access to healthy foods, and encourage them to help their families in the kitchen.

In our partner community Esgenoôpetitj First Nation, the local school has student cooking classes in the hopes of not only promoting food and nutrition literacy but also numerical literacy.

Some of the children struggle with math and fractions,” Beverly, the cooking class teacher, tells us. “So recipe reading is a great way to practice math while making something delicious.”

The life skills that the students learn are preparing them for self-sufficiency and ensuring they are confident in the kitchen. Many children have parents who work long shifts and need to prepare their own meals at home, so these classes that promote nutrition literacy ensure children can make smarter food choices at home.

two boys stand smiling with their arms around one another

Best friends, Miles and Landon, enjoying cooking together and learning new recipes

In this class, the children are flourishing and enjoying the recipes they create. “It’s opening their eyes,” Beverly says, “They are trying foods they might not normally eat, and are surprised they like it! It’s important as many of these children don’t have enough to eat at home, so they’re at least eating good, healthy meals here at school, and ones that they’ve prepared themselves.

Miles and Lelande are two students who find the classes fun, like being able to eat the food they prepared themselves and feel it would help them know how to cook for themselves in the future. The two get to experiment with new ingredients, herbs and spices, and love to share the meals with their friends and families.

I like to learn cooking because I want to be a chef when I’m older,” Lelande says. He and his friend Miles say cooking together is their favourite part of going to school.


TRADITIONAL RECIPES IN THE KITCHEN

a little boy in a chef hat chops tomatoes on a cutting board in a kitchen

Oscar, seen chopping tomatoes, loves cooking both at home and at school

In Bolivia, Oscar is a nine-year-old who is part of his school centre’s cooking club. There, he learns to wash, peel and chop foods, how to follow a recipe, mix and stir dishes, and to safely start fires and put ingredients into pots.

Having cooked a lot with his uncles and parents, Oscar is continuing the cooking tradition in his extracurricular cooking class. These cooking classes are not only teaching children valuable life skills but promoting confidence and social skills, as well.

There’s also a renewed focus on traditional recipes like k’allu and plato paceño, so the children strengthen their connection to their heritage while learning the importance of nutritious cultural foods.

K’allu is a type of salad made with tomato, onion, lettuce, cheese and potato that hails from the city of Cochabamba. Plato paceño is Oscar’s favourite dish from La Paz that is comprised of vegetables, cheese and meat.

Around 120 children attend Oscar’s centre and participate in cooking classes and other life skill classes like chess, robotics, self-esteem puppetry, and more.

The recipes are easy to prepare with the hopes that the children can prepare these meals at home so they eat healthy,” Sonia, a teacher at the centre, tells us. “The children improve their cooking skills, learn about nutrition, and hopefully this expands their love of cooking.

In addition to cooking traditional recipes, Sonia gets the children out into the centre’s garden to learn the importance of growing your own food. The children sow seeds, till the soil, harvest the produce, and then cook with the yields.

The importance of farm-to-table and growing your own healthy produce is instilled in the students,” she says. “When a child experiences the reward of growing food, and then using it in a recipe, their food literacy is strengthened and it helps their development.

Watch the video below to see Oscar demonstrate his techniques in the kitchen as he makes k'allu!



KEEP NUTRITION TRADITIONS ALL YEAR LONG

It’s plain to see that involving children from a young age in the kitchen, in meal planning and grocery shopping, helps build vital life skills that continue into adulthood. Children who are exposed to these skills have healthier diets, are less picky, good at financial literacy, and have improved self-esteem.

Overall, it is clear that food knowledge and skills (even the basics!) are imperative for future nutritional health of children but are also a fun way to socialize and learn.