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Children who cook will make healthier adults

Children who cook understand that food doesn’t just happen—File photo  

The statistics are scary. Our country, and in fact the world, is facing an enormous health crisis. Childhood obesity and juvenile diabetes are on the rise like never before. According to experts, the next generation may be the first generation that has a shorter life expectancy than their parents. And may also be the least food literate generation ever. Too many Indians of our generation simply don’t cook. Historically, a majority of the male population never really learned. In recent years, even girls, are increasingly kept out of the kitchen because they have “better things to do, study, work, learn and earn”.

Our children — whether boys or girls — are not learning food skills at school, at home, or anywhere. Food is the most exciting sector of growth in India in every way today. It’s everywhere: on television, online, even on our phones. And yet our children are growing up without even the simplest knowledge of food or basic cooking.

As a mother, I have been researching the connection between children and cooking for a couple of years now. As parents, we worry about our kids’ safety constantly. We plan, save and invest for their education, their futures, but do we take into account that medical treatment for lifestyle diseases will be prohibitive? Are we saving for that? Lifestyle diseases are preventable by eating mindfully. We just need to ensure we pass on our food culture, the core society values of Indian homes. Go shopping together, cook together and eat together.

A cooking date with the family doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Start with one day a week, perhaps weekends, when we usually have a little more time to spend on food. Get your kids involved in shopping. Make a trip to your favourite market, interact with you favourite vegetable vendors, identify quality produce, pick the right cut of meat from your favourite butcher, share jobs in the kitchen. It’s a great introduction not just to cooking, but also family traditions and recipes.

A handful of must-know dishes will set your kids up for life. There is no need for special cookbooks. It’s important children learn to make essential basics and it is important they learn to cook Indian food because our home cooked cuisine is one of the healthiest foods. Too often, we want to make things special but then we are telling our kids that everyday dal rice is boring, and cooking only means fancy dishes.

There’s no need for special equipment. Not only will they will grow out of kid-sized utensils really quickly, but it’s better for them to get acquainted with real stuff under your supervision. A dull knife is actually more dangerous than a sharp paring knife, contrary to what people think. Let children get used to them and solid cutting boards, secured with a damp cloths or paper towels underneath. Inculcating the rules of safety and hygiene, the wisdom of separating rubbish, and keeping their workspace clean are valuable practices for life.

Involving your kids in cooking, even if it’s a meal they eventually dislike, is a great way to encourage interest in food, and acquisition of new tastes.

Make sure there is at least one component of the meal that they will absolutely eat. Convince them to try just one bite of the something new. You might be surprised to see fussy eaters eating more than you expect. Kids are more inclined to taste what they make themselves, out of curiosity if nothing else.

And even if they don’t end up loving what you make together, be happy in the knowledge that you are still teaching them valuable kitchen skills, and that they will get there eventually.

The lessons are big, though. Children who cook understand what goes into food preparation. They understand that food doesn’t just happen. It needs effort. Children must know what’s good for them, how to buy and cook nutritious food, and make a few dishes that they enjoy and don’t cost too much.

Food can be medicine, and if our children learn how to prepare the right dish, they can give their body just what it needs, nutrition. So, get into the kitchen with your kids. It doesn’t have to be complicated. From experience with my own kids, I guarantee you will make memories for a lifetime for them and yourselves. Because, food has an unshakeable position in our lives, one that connects us elementally to the place where we belong, home.

The writer is a food consultant, writer, stylist and the author of A Pinch of This, a Handful of That

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Printable version | May 1, 2021 11:04:21 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/entertainment/children-who-cook-will-make-healthier-adults/article8598849.ece

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