Cooking a holiday dinner is challenging enough for most of us, but what about when a child has food allergies and you want the meal to be healthy? Stephanie Conner from the Kiddos in the Kitchen podcast shares her story about bringing her son into the kitchen so he can learn healthy holiday cooking even from a young age, despite his food allergies.
If you're dreading holiday meals because you know your children will only eat a few rolls before they ask to leave the table, Stephanie's story will inspire you to keep trying to involve your kids in meal prep. Even if they just eat the rolls this year. Download the episode or press play below.
Why Food Choices Matter For the Environment
Agriculture needs a systemic change to solve environmental issues. But we all make food choices each day, and those choices influence our children's health and our planet. When we teach our kids to cook we not only give them skills they can use as adults, we also influence how the planet will look for the next generation.
For a little perspective on how food impacts the planet, Drawdown.org states that the number three solution to climate change is reduced food waste, # 4 is a plant-rich diet, # 9 is silvopasture, and #11 is regenerative agriculture.
Rebecca: Why did you start Kiddos in the Kitchen podcast and Kiddos Cook?
Stephanie: My son was diagnosed with a slew of food allergies when he was about 10 months old. So, he couldn't have dairy, eggs, nuts, peanuts or soy. I was breastfeeding at the time so I wasn't eating anything he couldn't have. So it was very hard for us to eat out as a family. Plus he was new to food, so I was trying to introduce him to foods, but I had a lot of restrictions. One of the things that I thought a lot about was what happens if he doesn't grow out of these allergies?
He's going to have a very hard time eating if he doesn't know how to cook for himself. There's a lot of soy in foods that you buy at the supermarket and in restaurants and so those foods were off the table for him at the time. So we were spending a lot of time in the kitchen. Around the time he was 18 months old, I got one of those kitchen stands and brought him into the kitchen. I wanted him to grow up knowing that cooking is part of life.
Cooking for kids with food allergies
Stephanie: When it comes to healthy cooking, this is an area where the food allergies that were so challenging in the beginning, were something of a blessing. Because one of the ways that we often make vegetables, for example, more palatable is we add cheese and butter and I can't do that. I can't do casseroles in the traditional way.
When I said I'm hosting Thanksgiving the only dish I play straight are the mashed potatoes. Everybody likes a real mashed potato with cream and butter so I don't mess with that. But everything else on the table my son can have.
When you take away dairy and eggs from the equation, sometimes you just end up having to cook with olive oil, having to cook more simply, relying on herbs and spices for your flavor as opposed to butter. I love butter, but if I can't have it, it gives me a little leg up on the healthy front.
Cooking for the next generation
Rebecca: Why is cooking healthy food with kids so important?
Stephanie: I don't want a generation of kids who don't know how to make healthy choices, who don't understand where food comes from and who don't know how to cook it for themselves. A lot of choices we make today are based on convenience and I get it. I 100% get it. But the danger is that kids go off to college, graduate college, become adults and don't know how to do anything but go through a drive through line. To me that's frightening.
We already have a lot of health problems that could be solved if we all just cooked at home. I know it's not feasible in modern society for everyone to cook everything. But I do often think how would things be different if you couldn't buy pre-made bread, if you couldn't buy pre-made cookies and ice cream?
If you couldn't buy all of these things that make life easier, but our health worse, we would eat a lot healthier and probably less. Again, I know that this isn't necessarily something that everyone can do. But I think we can make some steps in that direction while at the same time having really great opportunities to spend quality time bonding with our kids.
Tips and tricks for cooking with kids
If you're ready to cook more with your kids, or even cook a holiday meal with them, here are a few quick tips from Stephanie.
"Don't worry too much about the pickiness as long as there's something he will eat."- Stephanie Conner
- Let kids feel valued and useful in the kitchen
- Don't give up! Kids need to be exposed to new food 30 - 50 times before they even consider it.
- Try different herbs and oils
- Make sure there are one or two things on the table the child will eat
- Let kids chop, peel, squish, mix and add ingredients
- Use a kid-friendly knife
Download the free 2019 Kiddos Cook Holiday Food Guide for more tips that get kids into the kitchen this holiday season. The guide includes links to articles, resources, and allergy-friendly recipes.
About Stephanie Conner
Stephanie Conner is the host of the Kiddos in the Kitchen Podcast and the voice behind the blog KiddosCook.com. She's also a content strategist and one of my favorite former editors. She owns Active Voice Communications, which you can find at theactivevoice.com.