Growing up, every Sunday night was the same for me. I’d spend it playing outside with my brother and cousins, while the aroma of simmered garlic, tomatoes, and olive oil wafting out from my Grandma’s kitchen. She was making Sunday “gravy,” and just thinking of those meals still makes me happy.
As we’ve grown older and moved away from home, my wife and I wanted to create similar memories for our kids. We now host Sunday Gravy for our friends and their kids.Food brings people together. Sharing the table sparks conversation, memories, and so much more.
But it’s also a special time for our kids. It’s my opportunity to teach them lessons about food.
Specifically, these lessons.
Food Is More Than Nutrition
Fueling your body starts in the kitchen. But “fuel” is more than calories, carbohydrates, protein, fat vitamins, and minerals. Sure, foods give us all of those—some foods more than others.
But food does things that are arguably more important than filling our bodies with nutrients: It builds community. It creates conversation. It loosens up people to laugh.
A study by Dr. William Doherty and The Barilla Family Dinner Project found exceptional emotional and social benefits for both parents and kids when families sit down to eat dinner together.
Here are some stats from the study:
82 percent of parents feel closer to their kids when they have dinner together.
70 percent of kids appreciate their parents more when they share a meal.
61 percent of kids agree their parents are more relaxed and fun to be around when they have dinner together.
Other research has shown that those who cook and eat together have more open relationships with their children. Eating together may also decrease risk of obesity in kids and reduce teen drug use.
If those are important to you, it’s time to make this a priority.
It All Starts In the Kitchen
Cooking is a lost art. This lack of knowledge or comfort in the kitchen is arguably one of the biggest health concerns today.
Adults are cooking less, which means kids aren’t learning about food or how it’s prepared. This is scary—and sad.
Dana White, R.D., mom of three and author of First Bites: Superfoods for Babies and Toddlers, agrees.
“Cooking with kids is a terrific opportunity for hands on learning about food,” she says. “Make it a family activity where everyone gets excited to cook and to eat.”
One recent survey of nearly 4,500 parents of children under 18 years old found that only about one third of parents cook with their kids, even though over 90 percent believe it’s important to do so.
The romance of cooking together as a family and sitting around a table in your Sunday best isn’t quite a reality in today’s age of fly-by connection and drive-thru dinners.
But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
Give kids “ownership” of a meal. Kids want to be involved. Our 5- and 7-year-olds love to help decide what’s for dinner and prep the ingredients.
The bonus? We’ve found that when they have some say in the game, they are more likely to eat dinner and not ask for something else to eat instead.
(Too strapped for time? Try a meal delivery service, like this one from Men’s Health. It has tons of nutrient-packed, soul-satisfying dishes to choose from.)
A recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior examined the feasibility and acceptability of helping families cook and eat together by providing a variety of ingredients and resources.
The researchers in the study found that 86 percent of the meals provided were prepared and even more impressive, 96 percent were eaten together.
How to Start Cooking With Your Kids
1. Figure out a time that family dinner(s) will work. Simply aiming to do this one or two times more than you’re doing now is a great start.
For example, maybe Wednesday is the day that works for everyone in your family. Make this a priority, letting nothing else get in the way.
2. Have your kids help you pick out a meal, create a list from a recipe, and shop for the ingredients in that meal.
(If you’re looking for delicious, but simple, recipes to start with, check out the Guy Gourmet Cookbook from Men’s Health. It includes 150 power-packed breakfasts, fast dinners, and big-batch meals both you and your kids will love.)
3. Involve your kids in age appropriate kitchen prep activities (with supervision).
Maybe the younger kids would best help mixing ingredients, while those slightly older could actually be shown some knife skills and how to cook over heat.
Moral of the story? The sooner we can get our kids involved by teaching them the basics around the kitchen, the better off they will be as they grow up and, ultimately, when they’re on their own.