Holiday Mental Health Tips

​The holidays can be a happy time of year for many people, as they gather with family and friends, exchange gifts and celebrate traditions. But the changes in family routines and extra demands on time can also cause some stress, especially for children. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers some tips to help your family enjoy the best of the holiday season:

  • During the busy holiday time, try to keep household routines the same. Stick to your child’s usual sleep and mealtime schedules when you can, which may reduce stress and help your family enjoy the holidays.
  • Take care of yourself, both mentally and physically. Children and adolescents are affected by the emotional well-being of their parents and caregivers. Coping with stress successfully can help children learn how to handle stress better, too.
  • Make a plan to focus on one thing at a time. Try a few ideas to balance the hustle and bustle of things like shopping, cooking, and family get-togethers during the holidays: Stop and pay attention to what is happening at the moment, focus your attention on one thing about it, and notice how you are feeling at the time. Withhold immediate judgment, and instead be curious about the experience.
  • Give to others by making it an annual holiday tradition to share your time and talents with people who have less than you do. For example, if your child is old enough, encourage him or her to join you in volunteering to serve a holiday meal at your local food bank or shelter, or sing at a local nursing home. Help your child write a letter to members of the armed forces stationed abroad who can’t be home with their own family during the holidays.
  • Remember that many children and adults experience a sense of loss, sadness or isolation during the holidays. It is important to be sensitive to these feelings and ask for help for you, your children, family members or friends if needed.
  • Don’t feel pressured to over-spend on gifts. Consider making one or two gifts. Help your child make a gift for a parent, grandparent, or other important adults and friends. Chances are, those gifts will be the most treasured ones and will teach your child many important lessons.
  • Most important of all, enjoy the holidays for what they are — time to enjoy with your family. So, be a family, do things together like sledding or playing board games, and spend time visiting with relatives, neighbors and friends.

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2017). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.


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Encouraging Teens to Take Responsibility for Their Own Health

As children mature, they may become increasingly reluctant to share health concerns with Mom and Dad; partly out of modesty and partly to assert their independence. That is why teenagers need a pediatrician in whom they can confide.

Now is also the time for teens to learn to become savvy medical consumers. They should be encouraged to schedule their own doctors’ visits and to ask questions anytime they don’t understand something the pediatrician has said. Where health matters are concerned, there is no such thing as a “dumb” question. Every patient, regardless of age, is entitled to clear explanations of her condition and the recommended treatment plan.

Above all, adolescents need to be coached on the importance of taking medications as directed. If there is one source of frustration for pediatricians, it’s their young patients’ lack of compliance (although as Dr. Kulig, M.D., M.P.H. points out, “compliance among adults isn’t much better”). In one study of children suffering from throat infections, more than 80 percent failed to finish their antibiotics, which had been prescribed for ten days. Presumably, most of them started to feel better after several days and figured they could stop taking the medicine. But we know that the entire course of antibiotics must be completed in order to fully eradicate the infection. Otherwise, the bacteria regain a foothold, stronger than ever, and the symptoms return.

Teens may also resist following doctors’ orders as a display of rebellion. Dr. Kulig advises that parents monitor their youngster’s compliance, but without assuming the mantle of responsibility. The most successful strategy, he’s found, “is to solicit kids’ input about how to best stick to medication schedules, rather than demanding, ‘You must take this medicine.’ ” He offers several tips:

To eliminate confusion, post a calendar on the refrigerator and place a check mark in the appropriate box each time the medication is taken. Or purchase an inexpensive plastic pill holder, in which oral drugs are stored according to the day of the week and daily Sunday through Saturday, and dose (morning, afternoon, evening).

Have the teenager take the medicine at the same time as one of his daily rituals, like brushing his teeth. “It becomes a cue for compliance,” explains Dr. Kulig. “When they brush their teeth in the morning and at night, they remember they need to take their medicine.”

Practice positive reinforcement. Praise your adolescent each time he adheres to the medication schedule.

Remind young men and women why a medication has been prescribed. “Adolescents should understand the purpose of the therapy as well as the potential consequences of noncompliance,” says Dr. Kulig. “They should also be aware of how long they may have to be on the medication before they can expect to see optimum results.

“For instance, some acne medications can take upward of twelve weeks to start working. If a teen gets discouraged and discontinues the drug, obviously the acne won’t get better. Likewise, if he grows impatient and overuses it, he may irritate and dry out the skin.”

Another reason for supervising young people’s consumption of medicines is that some drugs have the potential for abuse, whether they’re prescribed or over-the-counter. “Tylenol is a good example,” says Dr. Kulig. “Too high a dose can basically destroy the liver.” Most overdoses of nonprescription agents are taken intentionally, as part of suicide attempts, but excessive amounts can be ingested accidentally. “Teenagers,” he stresses, “are not aware of how toxic these products can be.”

As a precaution, it’s wise to never leave a family member’s medication out where it can fall into the hands of an inquisitive child or a teenage pal looking for a “legal” high. According to Dr. Timothy Wilens, a pediatric psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital, also in Boston: “Most prescription drugs are abused not by the kids for whom they’re prescribed, but by other children. All containers should be stored away, with each dose administered individually.”

Questions to Ask the Pediatrician Before a Teenager Starts Any New Medication

  • What are the medication’s generic name and trade name?
  • What is the purpose of using this medication?
  • How often should the medication be taken, and at what time(s) of day?
  • What is the dosage?
  • Is it necessary to swallow this medication with food or milk?
  • If your youngster has difficulty ingesting pills, ask if the medication can be crushed, or if it comes in the form of a liquid, skin patch, rectal suppository, inhaler or nose spray.
  • Are there any foods or beverages to avoid while on this medication?
  • Will the drug interfere with other medications my child is taking, or vice-versa?
  • List for the pediatrician all medications your teenager takes, including over-the-counter agents, nutritional supplements and “natural” herbal remedies.
  • What should we do if we miss a dose?
  • For how long must the medicine be taken? Does my child have to finish the entire prescription?
  • Does the prescription include refills? If so, how many? What should we do if we need a new prescription ordered?
  • What are the potential side effects of this drug, and which ones should we report to you?
  • If side effects occur, how will they be managed?
  • When will we be able to tell if the medicine is working?
  • How much does the prescription cost?
  • Is there any written information available about the medication?

Source: Caring for Your Teenager (Copyright © 2003 American Academy of Pediatrics). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.


Is Your Child Overweight?

Pediatricians evaluate children’s growth and build by means of standardized growth charts and body mass index (BMI). Growth charts show whether a child falls within the normal range of height and weight for her age. Children whose weight or height is above the 85th or below the fifth percentile should be examined by a doctor to determine whether further evaluation is needed. Pediatricians also will watch for fluctuations in children’s weight, which may mean something has changed and put them on the path toward gaining excess weight.

Body mass index is a calculation of your child’s weight relative to height. A BMI above the 85th percentile means overweight, while children above the 95th percentile are considered obese, which increases their risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. The BMI percentile that defines severe obesity is 120% of the 95th percentile. If your child’s BMI is between the 85th and 95th percentiles, her excess weight may be fat or muscle. Growth charts and BMI tell only part of the story because neither method measures body fat. Children and adolescents who are particularly athletic with unusually muscular or lean builds may have a high BMI without having excess fat or being obese. In some obesity clinics, as many as 10% to 15% of children fall into this category. Also keep in mind that there are small differences between African American and white children; at the same BMI measurement, African American children and teenagers tend to have more muscle and bone mass and less body fat. However, almost all children and adolescents with a BMI above the 95th percentile have too much body fat, regardless of their ethnicity or muscularity.

Some parents wonder how it is possible for 17% of 2- to 19-year-olds to be obese when only 5% of the population should have a BMI above the 95th percentile. The BMI charts were based on children and teens studied before 1988, when not as many youth were obese. At that time, only 5% of children and teens were obese.

If your child is overweight because her frame size is increased, reassure her that her extra weight is not fat and encourage her to be physically active to maintain her muscle tone. Also, be actively involved in any discussions with your pediatrician and your child about your child’s weight. To prevent worries about body size, parent and child need to accept the child’s body type. Other members of the family may have a similar build. If you focus inappropriately on weight alone and pester your child to lose weight, she may develop a distorted body image and risk an eating disorder. It’s estimated that 70% to 80% of girls perceive themselves, whether rightly or wrongly, as too fat. Experts warn that a misperception of body image may be partly fueling the current obesity epidemic, with inappropriate dieting followed by rebound weight gain.

Choose to Be Happy – Many adolescents, particularly girls, become deeply unhappy when they realize that they are never going to be shaped like supermodels or earn multimillion-dollar contracts as movie stars.

Help your daughter feel comfortable with who she is. Reassure her that real beauty is more than skin deep. Help her develop her skills and talents and emphasize her positive attributes. Offer her female role models who have made the most of their talents, achieving intellectual and humanitarian goals or raising healthy, balanced children, instead of trading on their looks for superficial success.


Source: Nutrition: What Every Parent Needs to Know (Copyright © American Academy of Pediatrics 2011). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.


Keeping Preschoolers Active

Pediatricians are more aware than ever that a growing number of children are overweight. Your doctor has been keeping track of your child’s height and weight since infancy, and he’ll be able to calculate whether your child weighs more than he should.

Steps You Can Take Now to Reduce Your Child’s Likelihood of Becoming Obese and on Track for a Healthy Life

  • Give some thought to the physical activity in your child’s life. Even though he continues to be a bundle of endless energy, a lot of that energy often goes to waste. Many preschoolers spend several hours a day in front of the TV or computer screen, rather than playing outdoors. In fact, today’s children are only one-fourth as active in their day-to-day lives as their grandparents were.
  • Whether or not your four- or five-year-old is overweight, you need to make sure that physical activity becomes and remains a priority in his life. These preschool years are a time when he should be developing his motor skills, improving his coordination, and playing games and sports with greater skill. You should make sure that he has access to age-appropriate play equipment, such as balls and plastic bats that will make exercise fun and something he looks forward to doing. Of course, these play periods must be supervised; you need to keep him away from dangerous situations like running into the street to chase a ball.
  • Make an effort to turn family time into a physically active time. On a Sunday afternoon, rather than going to the movies, take the entire family on a hike in the hills near your home. Or fly a kite in the park, play tag, or throw a ball back and forth.​

Source: Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5, 6th Edition (Copyright © 2015 American Academy of Pediatrics). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.


Physical Activity = Better Health

Pediatricians continue to be disturbed by the trends they’re seeing in the levels of physical activity of children, which appear to be headed in the wrong direction. One survey concluded that less than 25% of children in grades 4 through 12 participate in 20 minutes of vigorous activity or 30 minutes of any physical activity per day. Particularly with weight management as a goal, those numbers aren’t good enough.

Not only will regular physical activity help your child lose weight and maintain that weight loss, but it has many other benefits. For example, if your child exercises regularly, he’ll have

  • Stronger bones and joints
  • Greater muscle strength
  • A decrease in body fat
  • Improved flexibility
  • A healthier cardiovascular system (thus reducing his risk of developing heart disease and high blood pressure)
  • A reduced likelihood of developing diabetes
  • More energy
  • A greater ability to handle stress
  • Improvements in self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Greater social acceptance by physically active peers
  • Opportunities to make new friends
  • Better concentration at school

Getting Started

You should have a clear picture of your child’s activity level—and whether he needs to change course. Is he watching too much TV? Is he spending too little time playing outdoors after school or on weekends?

As a parent, you need to help your overweight child get moving. To repeat, he should be doing some physical activity every day. In fact, it should become as routine a part of his life as brushing his teeth and sleeping.

So where should you begin? How much time does your child need to spend being active and how intense does this activity need to be?

The answers to these questions may be different for your child than it is for another boy or girl. If your overweight youngster has been completely sedentary, with no PE classes at school, no outdoor play, no extracurricular physical activities, and hours of TV watching every day, his starting point should be different than that of a fairly active youngster. There are plenty of activities that he can choose from, and he should begin to slowly and gradually pick up the pace.

Let’s say that your child decides to try getting his physical activity by taking walks or hikes with an older sibling through a nearby park. If he is really out of shape or if he has trouble imagining doing any walking at all, encourage him to set a goal of walking for only 1 minute at a time (“Can you walk for just 60 seconds?”). Once he realizes that 1 minute is an attainable target, have him increase his walking sessions progressively, to 2 minutes each time, then 3 minutes, and so on, until he’s walking for 30 minutes or more. If your youngster is already in better shape, he may want to start with a 15-minute walk and then increase it in 5-minute increments to 20 minutes, 25 minutes, and beyond. The ultimate goal is to have him spend an hour being active each day.

To most of us, a minute or two of walking doesn’t sound like much. In fact, many adolescents and adults think that exercise doesn’t really count unless it’s intense and even hurts (as the cliché goes, “No pain, no gain”). But for a child trying to lose weight, every little bit of activity helps, whether it’s a short walk to the school bus stop or a climb up a flight of stairs at school. Ultimately, once your child gets into better shape, you can encourage him to increase the duration and intensity of his activity, but the most important thing is that he just get moving and do it regularly.


Source: A Parent’s Guide to Childhood Obesity: A Road Map to Health (Copyright © 2006 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

11 Ways to Encourage Your Child to Be Physically Active

Did You Know?

  • Only 1 in 3 children are physically active every day.
  • Less than 50% of the time spent in sports practice, games, and physical education class involves moving enough to be considered physical activity.
  • Children and teens spend more than 7 hours per day on average using TVs, computers, phones, and other electronic devices for entertainment.
  • About 1 out of 3 children is either overweight or obese in the United States.
  • Overweight teens have a 70% chance of becoming overweight or obese adults.

Getting Started

Parents can play a key role in helping their child become more physically active. Here are 11 ways to get started:

  1. Talk with your child’s doctor. Your child’s doctor can help your child understand why physical activity is important. Your child’s doctor can also suggest a sport or activity that is best for your child.
  2. Find a fun activity. Help your child find a sport that she enjoys. The more she enjoys the activity, the more likely she will continue it. Get the entire family involved. It is a great way to spend time together.
  3. Choose an activity that is developmentally appropriate. For example, a 7- or 8-year-old child is not ready for weight lifting or a 3-mile run, but soccer, bicycle riding, and swimming are all appro­priate activities.
  4. Plan ahead. Make sure your child has a convenient time and place to exercise.
  5. Provide a safe environment. Make sure your child’s equipment and chosen site for the sport or activity are safe. Make sure your child’s clothing is comfortable and appropriate.
  6. Provide active toys. Young children especially need easy access to balls, jump ropes, and other active toys.
  7. Be a role model. Children who regularly see their parents enjoying sports and physical activity are more likely to do so themselves.
  8. Play with your child. Help her learn a new sport.
  9. Turn off the TV. Limit TV watching and computer use. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 1 to 2 hours of total screen time, including TV, videos, computers, and video games, each day. Use the free time for more physical activities.
  10. Make time for exercise. Some children are so overscheduled with homework, music lessons, and other planned activities that they do not have time for exercise.
  11. Do not overdo it. When your child is ready to start, remember to tell her to listen to her body. Exercise and physical activity should not hurt. If this occurs, your child should slow down or try a less vigorous activity. As with any activity, it is important not to overdo it. If your child’s weight drops below an average, acceptable level or if exercise starts to interfere with school or other activities, talk with your child’s doctor.

Remember

Exercise along with a balanced diet provides the foundation for a healthy, active life. This is even more important for children who are obese. One of the most important things parents can do is encourage healthy habits in their children early on in life. It is not too late to start. Ask your child’s doctor about tools for healthy living today.


Source: Encourage Your Child to Be Physically Active (Copyright © 2003 American Academy of Pediatrics, Updated 10/2015). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.


Healthy Eating at Home Matters!

Agricultural background; a pile of beautiful oranges

Eat Fruits and Vegetables at Every Meal
Fruits and vegetables add important vitamins and fiber to your diet. At every meal, include some kind of fresh, frozen, or canned fruits and vegetables. Just be sure to watch out for those with fatty sauces or added sugar. Aim for at least 5 fruits and veggies a day. Just remember to avoid small, hard foods on which your child can choke, and cut any firm, round food (e.g., raw carrots or grapes) into long, thin slices.

Ideas for adding fruits and veggies to your meals:

  • Add fruits and veggies to foods your child already likes: put blueberries in pancakes, chopped fruit on cereal, or small pieces of broccoli in macaroni and cheese.
  • Make it fun: try cutting up food into fun shapes or making faces out of fruits and vegetables.
  • Prepare and pack fruits and veggies as snacks for afterschool, after sports practice, and other times.

Give Kids a Say in What They Eat and Get Them Excited About Healthy Food
Help your kids make the right food choices from an early age. You can do this by giving them two healthy choices to choose from, like an apple and an orange. It’s a great way for your kids to get excited about eating healthy foods. Let them decide what and how much to eat.

Ideas to help children get excited about food:

  • Let them help you with small, kid safe jobs in the kitchen such as mixing ingredients and setting the table.
  • Allow them to smell, touch, taste, and play with food.

Eat Breakfast Every Day
Eating breakfast helps your child start his day in a healthy way. Incorporate fruit and whole grains whenever possible. Children and adults who eat breakfast daily are less likely to be overweight.

Eat Together As a Family
Try to set aside your meals as family time, and eat together as often as possible. Even babies can join family meal time. By age 9 months, they are able to eat on the same schedule with you. Create family meal times when they are little and keep this tradition as they grow.


Source: http://www.healthychildren.org. The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.


Are Your Kids Hungry or Just Bored?

​Children (as well as adults) often use food for reasons other than to satisfy hunger. Children often eat in response to their emotions and feelings. If your child seems hungry all the time, use the following tips to get a better idea of what is really going on.

What Triggers Hunger?
If your child is eating 3 well-balanced meals and 1 snack a day but still claims to be hungry, there may be other reasons beyond hunger that make him or her want to eat.

What You Can Do
Ask yourself: Does your child sometimes reach for food when experiencing any of the following?

  • Boredom
  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Frustration
  • Insecurity
  • Loneliness
  • Fatigue
  • Resentment
  • Anger
  • Happiness

Does your child eat at times other than regular mealtimes and snacks? Is your child munching at every opportunity?

Do you reward your child with food (does an A on a test sometimes lead to a trip to the ice cream shop)? This can inadvertently contribute to your child’s obesity.

When your child is doing things right, do you tell him or her? Words of approval can boost a child’s self-esteem. They can also help keep a child motivated to continue making the right decisions for health and weight.

How are you speaking to your child? Is it mostly negative? Is it often critical? It’s hard for anyone, including children, to make changes in that kind of environment.

Healthy Alternatives
If you suspect your child is eating out of boredom, you may need to steer him or her toward other activities as a distraction.

What You Can Do

  • Make sure your child is eating 3 well-balanced meals and 1 snack a day. This will prevent feelings of hunger between meals.
  • Help your child choose other things to do instead of eating, such as:, Walking the dog, Running through the sprinklers, Playing a game of badminton, Kicking a soccer ball, Painting a picture, Going in-line skating, Dancing, Planting a flower in the garden, Flying a kite, Joining you for a walk through the mall (without stopping at the ice cream shop)
  • Offer healthy snacks such as raw vegetables, fruit, light microwave popcorn, vegetable soup, sugar-free gelatin, and fruit snacks. Snacks such as chips and candy bars have empty calories that will not make your child feel full.
  • You pick the snack. When children are allowed to pick their own snacks, they often make unhealthy choices. Talk to your child about why healthy snacks are important. Come up with a list of snacks that you can both agree on and have them on hand.

Remember…your own relationship with food and weight, dating back to your childhood, can influence the way you parent your own child. One of your biggest challenges is to determine whether your child is eating for the right reasons.

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Source: Pediatric Obesity: Prevention, Intervention, and Treatment Strategies for Primary Care (Copyright © 2014 American Academy of Pediatrics). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

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Avoiding Food Traps

​Food traps are situations and places that make it difficult to eat right. We all have them. The following tips may help your family avoid some of the most common traps.

FOOD TRAP #1: VACATIONS, HOLIDAYS & OTHER FAMILY GATHERINGS

Vacations: When on a trip, don’t take a vacation from healthy eating and exercise.Plan your meals. Will all your meals be from restaurants? If so, can you split entrees and desserts to keep portions from getting too large? Can you avoid fast food? Can you bring along your own healthy snacks? Stay active. Schedule time for physical activities such as taking a walk or swimming in the hotel pool.

Holidays: It’s easy to overeat during holidays. But you don’t need to fear or avoid them. Approach the holidays with extra care. Don’t lose sight of what you and your child are eating. Plan to have healthy foods and snacks on hand. Bring a fruit or veggie tray with you when you go to friends and family. Celebrate for the day, not an entire month! Be sure to return to healthy eating the next day.

Other Family Gatherings: In some cultures, when extended families get together, it can turn into a food feast, from morning to night. Eat smaller portions. Avoid overeating whenever you get together with family. Try taking small portions instead. Get family support. Grandparents, aunts, and uncles can have an enormous effect on your child’s health. Let them know that you’d like their help in keeping your child on the road to good health.

FOOD TRAP #2: SNACK TIME

The biggest time for snacking is after school. Kids come home wound up, stressed out, or simply bored, so they reach for food.

  • Offer healthy snacks such as raw vegetables, fruit, light microwave popcorn, vegetable soup, sugar-free gelatin, or fruit snacks.
  • You pick the snack. When children are allowed to pick their own snacks, they often make unhealthy choices. Talk to your child about why healthy snacks are important. Come up with a list of snacks that you can both agree on and have them on hand.
  • Keep your child entertained. Help your child come up with other things to do instead of eating, such as playing outside, dancing, painting a picture, flying a kite, or taking a walk with you.
  • Make sure your child eats 3 well-balanced meals a day. This will help cut down on the number of times he or she needs a snack.

FOOD TRAP #3: RUNNING OUT OF TIME

Finding time every day to be physically active can be very difficult. However, if you plan ahead, there are ways to fit it in.

  • Make a plan. Sit down with your child and plan in advance for those days when it seems impossible to find even 15 minutes for physical activity. Have a plan B ready that your child can do after dark, such as exercising to a workout video.
  • Make easy dinners. If you run out of time to make dinner, don’t run to the nearest fast-food restaurant. Remember, dinners don’t have to be elaborate. They can be as simple as a sandwich, bowl of soup, piece of fruit, and glass of milk.

Remember, your job is to provide good nutrition to your child and family and encourage regular physical activity. Stay positive and focus on how well your child is doing in all areas of life. It can help keep nutrition and activity change moving along.


Written by Sandra G. Hassink, MD, FAAP. Source: Pediatric Obesity: Prevention, Intervention, and Treatment Strategies for Primary Care (Copyright © 2014 American Academy of Pediatrics). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.


5 Great Reasons to Cook with Your Kids

When it comes to raising an adventurous eater, it is not just about coaxing kids to eat their veggies. Bringing up a child who can enjoy a cantaloupe as much as a cupcake takes patience and persistence, but it does not have to feel like a chore.

Kids may need to have frequent joyful experiences involving food to overcome the anxiety they may have around tasting the unfamiliar. Over time, cooking with your children can help build that confidence—and provide rich sensory experiences.

Here are five ways to enjoy cooking with your children while raising an adventurous eater along the way.

  • Engage other senses. For a hesitant eater, tasting an unfamiliar food can sometimes be intimidating. You can help your child explore foods when cooking using other senses besides taste. This helps to build positive associations with food. Kneading dough, rinsing vegetables, and tearing lettuce all involve touching food and being comfortable with texture. The complex flavors we experience when eating food come from both taste sensations from the tongue AND smelling with the nose. While cooking with new ingredients, some children may feel too overwhelmed to taste. If this happens, you can try suggesting smelling a food first; this may provide a bridge to tasting in the future.
  • Use cooking to raise smart kids. There are so many lessons that can be taught while cooking. Math concepts like counting, measurement, and fractions naturally unfold when navigating a recipe with kids. Explaining how food changes with temperature or how certain foods can help our body be healthy provide great lessons in science. While cooking with your child, practice new vocabulary as you describe how food looks, feels, and tastes. Following a recipe from start to finish helps build the skills for planning and completing projects.
  • Make cooking part of the family culture. The family meal can start in the kitchen as you cook together. Family meal preparation is an opportunity to celebrate your cultural heritage by passing down recipes. Help your kids find new, seasonal recipes to add to your repertoire and family cookbook. Cooking together and prioritizing health over the convenience of processed food are great ways to lead by example and help your children buy into a culture of wellness. Building daily and seasonal traditions around cooking together helps strengthen your family’s commitment to a healthy lifestyle.
  • Keep it safe. Teach kids the importance of staying safe while cooking by showing them how to hold kitchen tools safely, how to use oven mitts to protect hands from heat, and how to turn appliances on and off safely. Always supervise children when cooking to ensure they are sticking with safe and age-appropriate tasks. The best way to keep cooking safe is to know your child’s abilities and his or her stage of development. A four-year-old child, for example, may not be ready to sauté vegetables over a hot pan, but may have the fine motor skills to rinse fruits or tear salad leaves. Keeping safety in mind, it is not difficult to get kids—even toddlers—involved in the kitchen.
  • Ask for input. Children feel more included in mealtime when they are asked to be a part of meal preparation. Collaborate with your kids when selecting recipes for main dishes or sides. Let them help you make the shopping list and find groceries in the store or farmers market. When cooking together, let children offer a critique of the foods you are preparing. Together you can decide what ingredients you should add to enhance the flavor. Talk about how people enjoy different tastes, and share your preferences with each other. Letting children be “in charge” of details like how to set the table will help them feel invested in mealtime.

Over many years, cooking as a family will help develop a happy, adventurous eater with some pretty valuable life skills—and plenty of happy memories in the kitchen. With enough practice, your child will someday be able to cook YOU a delicious meal!


Written by Nimali Fernando, MD, MPH, FAAP. Source: American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2016)