Nutrition with Jane McClenaghan: Get kids in the kitchen this summer

Yes, there will be mess, but it'll be worth it in the long run

SUMMER holidays can be a challenging time for parents trying their best to feed their kids well. With long summer days, holiday lie-ins and the temptation to curb boredom with food, children (and adults) are more likely to be tempted by sugary treats, ice cream and junk food, but good nutrition does not have to put a dampener on summer holidays.

One of the most important life lessons we can teach our kids is how to cook themselves a decent meal. No matter whether your children are toddlers or teens, the summer holidays are a great time to help give your tribe a little independence and encourage them to cook, stir, chop, whisk and bake. Teaching them a few basic, essentials skills will set them up well for life.

It is well researched that people who can cook tend to be healthier than those whose culinary skills are limited to baked beans on toast, although that's a good start! That is why initiatives like ‘Cook It' that teach people basic cooking skills are so successful in improving nutrition too.

Children of all ages can get involved in the kitchen. If you have pre-schoolers, they can help wash vegetables, tear or squash herbs, measure out ingredients on to a weighing scale or stir ingredients in a bowl. Just get them an apron and allow them to explore and play – taking care around anything that is hot or sharp.

As children get a little older, their skills can be developed to help with other skills such as sieving, grating and chopping. Keep an eye out for children's safety chopping knives, available online or from cooks' shops.

From an early age, children can set the table, and get them involved in planning the family's meals for the week ahead. That way they are more likely to want to explore different tastes and textures and have a more varied palate.

As children reach ages eight to 10, they will be able to follow a basic recipe with a little bit of help and supervision from an adult. Ideas like smoothies, homemade soup, pancakes or egg muffins can work well.

This is a good way to encourage your child to try different foods. You are likely to find that the more children cook, the wider the variety of foods they are willing to try.

Don't worry too much if the first attempts at cooking are messy and almost inedible. The fact that they are engaged and interested is fantastic and to be encouraged.

If you have bored teenagers at home, getting them to cook will give them something to do. Why not set teens a challenge to cook a meal for the family once a week? It could be curry, pizza or homemade burgers. It doesn't have to be mega healthy. Get them to explore recipes they like the look of online and see what they come up with.

OK, so your kitchen might end up a bit messy and you will probably have to help with the dishes, but cooking with kids will set them up well for life.

Here's my recipe for Chocolate Monkey Smoothie that children of all ages will love. If you have ice-lolly moulds, you can make it up in that and freeze to make healthy ice pops.


(Serves 2 little ones)

250ml milk

1 banana

1 dsp runny honey

1 dsp cocoa powder


Put all the ingredients in a blender or smoothie maker and blitz until smooth. Serve over ice cubes.

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