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Can Kids Cooking Classes Help Picky Eaters?

If your kids only want to eat fruit gummies and won’t even eat raw veggies with a delicious homemade ranch to dip them in, you’re not alone. Picky eating (better termed selective eating) is a bit of an epidemic in America, but it doesn’t have to be this way!

kids rolling dough to learn to cook and eat healthy foods

A lot of parents think that the last place their selective eater should be is in the kitchen working with food. They’re tired of the power struggles, the negative attitudes, and maybe even temper tantrums… from one or the other party in the adult and child sides of the battle. :/

As it turns out, a cooking class for kids maybe as important as a “how to eat healthy” class for those same kids or a parenting class for parents. In fact, the best experts who help kids learn to eat healthy food, especially the ones labeled more than picky (Sensory Processing Disorder), get kids working with food in many different ways.

It’s kind of like cooking classes are an integral part of healthy eating classes.

First-time parents often hear the sage advice:

You need to offer children a food at least 10 times before you give up.

Brain science actually says that we need to taste a food 10 times before we can even MAKE a decision on whether we like it or not. So giving up after 10 is actually too soon!

I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Nicole Beurkens, who runs the Horizons Developmental Resource Center in my area. Her background is extensive and comprehensive:

  • Certified Special Education Teacher
  • Licensed Psychologist
  • Board Certified Nutrition Specialist

I learned so much from her, and I just can’t keep this fact to myself! Check out the whole interview on Sensory Processing Disorder here.

Brain Science Tells Us Picky Eating Can Be Cured by Playing with Food

preschool boy pouring rice to learn small motor skills

What research and brain science also tell us is that any exposure to a food counts… Which means touching the food, smelling the food, even playing with the food can count as an exposure. For the very selective, aka “picky” eaters, you’ll need way more than ten exposures before they might even let the food pass their lips.

This means that therapy for picky eaters might include trips to the farmer’s market where the child is encouraged to touch many things (within reason of course and with permission from the seller), to use mashed potatoes and peas to build a structure instead of Play-Doh, and of course, to get in the kitchen and help their parents cook!

As the teacher of an online kids cooking class, of course, I was thrilled to hear this! I don’t need research to tell me that cooking has many many positive benefits for all children, including:

  • building authentic self-esteem
  • laying the foundation of life skills for adulthood
  • fostering responsibility and self-discipline in chores
  • as well as an attitude of service to the family.

I could go on and on. The benefits indeed are great!

So learning to cook should help picky eaters build self-esteem around food, which may help them be more willing to eat, but also hack their brains to be more open to trying new foods! If brain science is telling us that working with food improves our openness to new foods (and that food in particular), then let’s jump in with both feet!

Make Friends with Your Food?

You can think of it as a familiarity thing. When you’re out with a new group of people, you might be a bit more anxious, a bit less likely to share your real feelings, and it takes more thought to have a social conversation, even though you might be having a great time. When you’re with an old, trusted friend with whom you have shared many years of life experiences, it’s just easy. You don’t have to think, you don’t worry what they are thinking about you, and you just enjoy your time immensely.

Apply that scenario to kids and food: when something feels new, they’re a bit more anxious, a bit less likely to feel open to putting it in their mouth, and it takes a bit more thought and draws from their emotional stores deeper just to get through the meal.

But if they are a bit more familiar with the food, if they have hung out with that food for a while, and they know how it feels, how it smells, what it’s called and how to prepare it — it takes a bit less thought. The emotional stores aren’t as drained just by eating dinner. In a way, their defenses are down, and that food just might get past your picky eater’s lips.

boy with healthy smoothie mustache

But why a kids cooking class, and not just messing around in the kitchen?

There’s actually one reason for the parents, and one reason for the kids.

Parents of selective eaters are stressed out enough when it comes to food, the kitchen, and the dinner table. It’s my complete joy to take some pressure off their shoulders, to do the thinking for them, and to create a positive atmosphere where parent and child can simply sit down and watch a video and have some quality time.

And kids? Well first, kids love watching videos, right? There’s a reason YouTube is doing so well. And we all love watching people cook food! There’s a reason there are five million cooking shows out there, and yet it’s so baffling that no one in America seems to actually be cooking… we’re all just watching.

Brain science comes back again.

How Do You Learn Best?

biggest mistake still of John carrying plate

I remember in college when I was studying to be a teacher, how important it was for a classroom teacher to address the different modes of learning for all their students.

Learning modalities are the various ways in which information comes at us and we then process it. For example, different people learn best by hearing, seeing visually, reading, or working with their hands. But there are certain statistics about how we learn that apply to everyone. I will never forget this because I think of it often to apply to my own life, that of my former students, and my own children.

If you simply receive some piece of information, such as listening or reading, you’ll remember a certain percentage of it. It’s between 10 and 20% I believe.

But if you write it down, therefore processing it in your brain and sending it back out your hand, you increase what you will remember by a rather significant percentage. I’m just guessing here, but it’s probably about 40-50% retention now. (Science geek sidenote: The actual act of writing by hand increases memory even more than typing, by the way – a study was done that I heard via a Freakonomics podcast comparing learning retention between students who typed their notes and those who wrote them. Handwriting was far more effective!)

If you are able to actually do something, you will learn and remember even more because you have processed it in a different way, and ironically, the most effective way to learn is to teach. When you teach something, you are likely to remember up to 90% of what you’ve learned.

RELATED: Which kids cooking class is best for you?

Cooking Videos Help Kids Learn to Cook – And Eat Better Too!

Kids Cook Real Food eCourse on a laptop, desktop, tablet and phone.

Video wasn’t particularly addressed back then, but it’s pretty safe to say (and I have read research since then that shows) that watching other people doing something is going to be better than just reading about it or hearing someone explain it. That’s where video cooking lessons come in. If the children are watching me and the other children do the skills, while listening to me explain it using our kid-friendly memorable phrases, they are likely to process and remember the skills better.

And then, of course, comes the doing part for the child. We send those children from the screen into the kitchen to practice the skill, to be hands-on, to truly do the work of cooking. They are building scaffolding for this new knowledge through their sense of listening, their sense of sight, their sense of touch, and, as they practice our memory phrases, even their own voice.

So if you want to know how to get your kid to eat broccoli or stop picking the green things out of the casserole, if you worry that your child’s palate is quite beige (i.e. they prefer to eat only pizza, pasta, chicken nuggets, and perhaps a pancake or two thrown in at breakfast), or you just would love your child to enjoy eating healthy foods more, teaching them to cook with our online video cooking lessons for kids may be “just what the farmer ordered.”

RELATED: Kids Cooking Subscription

Not sure if the Kids Cook Real Food eCourse is right for your family? Find out if this online kid’s cooking class is a good fit here!

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Do you ever intentionally let kids interact with food without expecting them to eat it?

Here are some tips on using all EIGHT senses to help picky eaters.

Other Posts to Help Kids Eat Better

How to Cure Picky Eating by Playing with Food and Video Cooking Lessons
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3 thoughts on “Can Kids Cooking Classes Help Picky Eaters?”

  1. I am worried about my grandson. He won’t eat any fruits or vegetables. I am looking for ideas to encourage him to eat better and try new things.

    1. Ann,
      You’re not alone! I just shared a whole bunch of tips with parents but the most important one is this: get them involved. Second most important: Raise your standards. Assume that someday, he will eat those foods, and just keep trying (without power struggles) until something works. 🙂

      I love seeing grandmothers involved in helping their grandkids eat healthier! 🙂 Katie

    2. Cinnamon Vogue

      Anne, stop him having any sweets whatsoever. That includes hidden sugar in all kinds of food like Ketchup, Yogurt, snacks, bread etc. Be brutal and cut all sugar. When this is done, children will naturally navigate towards fruits and vegetables. It works. After about a month cut the fruit too. Did you know that vegetables have the same amount of nutrients as fruits at four times the rate? Of course if the parents still keep giving sugary foods, this will not work. I own a couple of preschools and since we banned anything with sugar, vegetable consumption has gone up dramatically and we have less problems with ADHD and other issues of concentration.

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