Start a Healthy Holiday Tradition: Cooking with Kids

little girl stirs batter while her mother holds the bowl

Holiday time often means children home from school, visits from friends and family, and an emphasis on food and cooking.

It’s an opportunity to bring kids into the kitchen and introduce a conversation about cooking, eating, and healthy food choices.

With 1 in 3 American children overweight or obese, learning to eat healthier is more important than ever. Being overweight or obese puts children at risk for future diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer.

Children of all ages can get involved.

Preschoolers can help select ingredients from the fridge or pantry and help with stirring. They can drop fruit chunks into the blender to make a smoothie or sprinkle cheese and vegetables on a homemade whole-wheat crust pizza. Talk about how these healthy foods make your body grow big and strong, and how eating yummy, good-for-you food makes big muscles and strong bones.

School-aged children can put their math skills to the test by measuring out ingredients, or they can use their fine motor skills to crack eggs for an omelet, roll their own lean meatballs, or cut soft fruit with a butter knife. Because they can handle conversation that’s more in-depth, talk about how healthy foods make the systems in their bodies – including their muscles, heart, blood, and bones – work well, and how healthy bodies now will make them healthier adults. You can explain that foods that aren’t good for you are OK once in a while, but shouldn’t replace the foods their bodies really need.

Tweens and teens can use a sharper knife and might be ready to use the stove or oven on their own. Let them choose a recipe and take the lead in preparing it, from finding the ingredients at the market to delivering the finished product.

Be careful how you talk about healthy choices with this age group. Studies show that when parents focus on body weight in conversations about health, teens are more likely to diet, go on food binges, and use unhealthy weight-control behaviors like fasting. But if parents focus more generally on healthy eating, teens are less likely to try drastic means to lose weight. The best way to get through to your tweens or teens is to be a role model: Eat healthy yourself, show that you’re enjoying your food, and most important, keep healthy foods in the house and limit junk food, so they have good options at hand.

Looking for some good, kid-friendly recipes? Try the American Cancer Society Kids’ First Cookbook. See our recipe below, which kids of all ages can help prepare.

Recipe: Chicken Burgers

  • 1 pound ground chicken breast
  • ½ cup finely chopped carrots
  • ½ cup finely chopped onion
  • ½ cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Non-fat cooking spray
  • 8 whole-wheat hamburger buns

In a bowl, mix ground chicken, carrots and onions together. Add egg, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper. Mush it all together really well! Make 8 round patties from the mixture.

Preheat a large skillet on the stove (for about 3 minutes on high), then coat skillet with cooking spray. Lower the stove temperature to medium-high.

Place patties in skillet and cook on each side until brown and cooked throughout.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master's-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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