two women standing in kitchen

The thought of a teen handling sharp knives and sizzling pans might send your heart racing, but getting your child familiar with cooking has huge benefits. When teens are involved in the preparation of healthy meals, they learn important life skills that extend beyond the kitchen.

Read on to find out how teaching your child to throw together a stir fry can set them up for a happier, healthier life.

1. It teaches them about healthy eating

Explaining to your teen why they can’t eat fast-food every night gets tiring around the 100th time. A great way to demonstrate the advantages of home-cooked meals over takeaway is by regularly shopping for groceries and cooking with your teen. This teaches teens what goes into a healthy meal (ie. fruit, veg, whole grains, lean protein etc.) and what isn’t necessary (ie. artificial preservatives, flavours, extra sugar etc).

Eating a balanced diet is key to maintaining not only your physical health but also your mental health. This is especially important for teens, whose minds and bodies are still developing. You can read more about the gut-mind connection here.

2. It gives you quality time together

Cooking together is a great way to hang out with your teen and chat with them about their day. The time together will help you feel socially connected. A once-weekly family cook-up can provide a great opportunity to check in with what’s going on and how everyone feels. You’ll likely find that chopping onions and peeling potatoes makes you feel more comfortable to talk about the big stuff.

3. They’ll learn to fend for themselves

Whether you’re out with friends for the evening or they’ve grown up and flown the nest, there'll come a time when your child needs to feed themselves. When this happens, it’ll be cheaper, healthier, easier and safer if they know how to cook at home. Knowing how to pick a ripe avo or throw together a meal on a tenner are valuable life skills to learn. We’re not saying they won’t still attempt to live on 2-minute noodles, but it doesn’t hurt to try.

4. It boosts their self-confidence

When a teen can shop for, prep, cook and serve a meal (or even a snack) all on their own, it gives them a sense of accomplishment and pride. It might not seem like a big deal, but these small things help teens to believe in themselves. A teen who knows they can look after themselves will be ready to take on life’s challenges – from cooking a healthy stir fry for their mates, to nailing their first job interview.

5. It keeps recipes in the family

Teaching your teen how to cook is a great way to pass on those special family recipes. It provides an opportunity to talk about history and culture, and gives your teen a chance to learn more about who they are and where they came from. Plus, it means there’ll always be Yiayia’s kourambiethes at Christmas or Nai nai’s dumplings at Chinese New Year.

6. It teaches them about giving back

Getting your teens involved in the family cooking gives them the opportunity to contribute to the family. It teaches them about giving back, and also lets them experience the work involved in producing the delicious family meals they get night after night. They’ll learn to appreciate people around them and acts of kindness, and begin to recognise themselves as a part of a family that works together.

Here are some tips on how to get your teenager started:

  • Start simple. Get them to do simple things like peeling vegetables or stirring the pot, to spark their interest without overwhelming them.
  • Pick foods they like. They’re more likely to be interested in helping if they have the incentive of eating their favourite dish!
  • Make it a regular family event. Decide on a time together, and make it a weekly or fortnightly event to start off with.

This article was developed in collaboration with the Food and Mood Centre, Deakin University. Check out foodandmoodcentre.com.au for more information.

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