Why Cooking Together Should Be Part of Your Family Routine and How It Helps Make Your Children Happy
The majority of parents would say that the first thing they want for their children is happiness. A happy child is a healthy child, and it has been shown time and time again that mental health and well being are instrumental to children's educational, social, emotional, cognitive and physical growth.
Worldwide, up to 20% of children suffer some form of mental health disorder. Academic and extra-curricular demands, overuse of technology and often a chaotic family life with both parents working all contribute toward a stressful environment for children.
As parents, we tread a fine line between letting our children find their own path while also nurturing and guiding them. How can we manage our children's stressful environment? How can we help them face the pressures of today's world? One highly effective way is cooking together.
Cooking as a family allows parents and children to be together in the moment, to be mindful of their time spent together. It encourages family bonding and also lets parents teach their children about healthy eating habits.
Cooking up a healthy storm
Nowadays, families are busy. Parents are consumed by work, relationships, and finding time to pursue their own interests. Children are occupied with school, extra-curricular demands and friends. As such, family members can struggle to find time to connect with one another.
"We all have to eat each night and encouraging your child to help out in the kitchen provides a collective and connective time where children and parents can get off their devices and be present with the family," says Robert McKenzie, pediatric psychologist at Youthrive.
Cooking with your children provides hands-on experience with many essential skills such as measuring, reading and following directions. In the kitchen, children develop hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, and basic science and maths concepts.
Cooks also experience a frequent sense of achievement upon successfully creating a meal and eating it. This act of creativity, followed by a sense of accomplishment, has been shown to improve self-confidence and personal satisfaction. Cooking has further been shown to develop confidence and concentration, two pillars of a happy, healthy mind.
Getting involved in the kitchen gives the family time to be present together. So much of the time we spend as families is spent in the presence of each other, but not necessarily consciously present. Think of time "together" watching TV, in the car, or even in the lounge room. Often family members may be distracted by homework, books, devices or phone calls and are not consciously in the moment with one another.
Cooking rectifies this by bringing everyone to the moment and task at hand, thus allowing families to be mindfully present with one another.
Jan Chozen Bays, MD and Zen master, describes mindfulness as “deliberately paying full attention to what is happening around you and within you”. In essence, mindfulness is simply concentrating on what you are currently doing. Practicing mindfulness is good for your mental health. And as cooking demands focus and attention, it demands that you be mindful.
Cooking, atleast, cooking well, requires your full attention; it forces your mind to be present. You must pay attention when chopping vegetables for fear of chopping something else! If you interrupt your focus while frying the garlic by leaving the kitchen, it will burn. Certainly by playing a game or checking your emails on a device will you ruin the meal!
The repetitive and progressive actions of chopping, mixing and stirring require concentration and can be meditative and therapeutic, thus offering a chance to mentally block out daily concerns and focus on the now. It is a rewarding activity that engages your entire sensory range; taste, touch, smell, sound and sight.
By cooking together, parents and children not only unwind and process their days, but they also engage in an activity where every person is being mindful of their time spent together.
By making cooking a family or group activity, your children not only get significant psychological benefits such as improved concentration, self-esteem and confidence, but it offers the family a chance to bond, and to be present and mindful together.
Food unites people. Festivals, get-togethers and holidays usually involve food and group meals, and they create fond memories of family gatherings and a positive image of the family unit. Cooking with your child allows you to celebrate these memories and strengthen family ties.
Making a particular family dish or using certain ingredients can evoke memories of loved ones. Different smells and tastes stimulate the mind, and parents and children can fondly reminisce in the kitchen about Grandpa's famous stew or Auntie Athena's potatoes. This helps to reinforce the family unit and nurtures bonds between family members.
Cooking and eating together builds connections between people. Cooking is a shared activity that requires cooperation, communication, teamwork and patience. By cooking with your children, you offer them an event that provides focus, a sense of purpose, and the chance to really spend time together.
"Cooking lets family members come together on an even playing field, "explains Liz Curtis, a family social worker and culinary arts therapist. "It creates a shared experience, which strengthens communication and family interactions".
Family mealtime contributes to the family bonding experience. If you and your children cook together, you are far more likely to sit down and eat together as a family. This gives you more time to discuss the day and spend genuine time together, while also being able to praise your child and praise them for their culinary efforts, resulting in an increased sense of self-worth and achievement.
By spending this time with your children, you are also able to give them advice and real-life examples of healthy eating habits.
When you teach your children to cook, you pass on your own knowledge about healthy eating and living. You can teach them how to eat well and to be aware of what they consume. Cooking together gives parents the ideal environment to show their children how eating natural, unprocessed foods is an easy, healthy and cheap alternative to buying processed foods.
Children who cook are also exposed to new foods and a more extensive range of nutrition. A study published in ScienceDirect showed that involving children in food preparation and exposing them to new foods before asking them to try new dishes encourages food inquisitiveness, healthy eating and a diverse diet.
Eating a greater variety of healthy foods is fundamental to cognition, development and mental happiness, in adults and children alike.
By adding cooking to your family routine, you fill two needs with one deed. Everyone must eat every night, and cooking can be a chore. But cooking together provides families with an opportunity to unwind from their full schedules and bring themselves to the present.
Family cooking offers us the chance to put down our devices and forget about our problems, even if only for half an hour. It gets us communicating, asking, teaching and talking about something that matters to our well being. Cooking together not only nourishes our bodies, but the positive psychological benefits of improved confidence, self-worth and creativity significantly improve mental health, in you and your child.
Cooking together gives us time to build relationships with our children away from technology, and encourages healthy eating habits and strengthens the family unit.