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Cooking with Kids: Mental Wellness in the Kitchen

Cooking with Kids: Mental Wellness in the Kitchen

Growing up has always been a challenge. Today, the added pressures of social media can make it hard for kids to feel like they’re living up to society’s standards. It can lead to depression, anxiety, loneliness, low self-esteem, and substance abuse. 

Naturally, parents want to do whatever they can to boost their kids’ mental wellness. They may not realize they have a great tool for good mental health right there in the home.

Cooking with kids is a great opportunity to spend time together, teach valuable life skills, and give children the confidence to take care of themselves with food and nutrition. It can be part of a holistic approach to therapy for behavioral and mental health concerns. It’s also a way to promote good mental health, high self-esteem, and strong relationships before serious issues arise. 

Benefits of Cooking with Children

Studies from Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior indicated that adolescents who believe in their cooking abilities tend to eat more fruits and vegetables and have lower levels of depression. Here are a few of many benefits of cooking with children:

  • Spend quality time together
  • Demonstrate love and care for the entire family by preparing a nourishing meal
  • Teach basic math and measuring skills
  • Practice reading
  • Practice patience and concentration
  • Teach about different types of foods and ingredients
  • Teach about where different foods come from or how they’re grown or made
  • Spark curiosity in geography, culture, and traditions surrounding food
  • Encourage them to try new foods and enjoy the meals they’ve created with their own hands
  • Give them confidence in their cooking abilities, which can translate into confidence and a willingness to try new things in other areas of life

By the time a child has grown to be a young adult, their cooking skills have been shown to contribute to better nutrition-related outcomes within the next decade. An adult who can cook is less likely to rely on fast food and more likely to prepare meals with vegetables.

Cooking with children helps set them up for a healthy lifestyle as an adult. Imagine the positive domino effect through the coming generations as those adults teach their kids healthy eating and cooking habits. 

What to Teach Your Teens About Cooking

By the time children are 13 years old, they can typically do most kitchen tasks with supervision. In addition to quality time together, parents have the opportunity to teach their children valuable life skills while cooking. 

They can take the opportunity to specifically address topics like these:

  • Shopping: Budgeting, choosing ripe fruits and vegetables, reading nutrition labels
  • Safety: Knife skills, oven safety, basic first aid for cuts and burns
  • Measuring: How many teaspoons make a tablespoon, how to double or halve a recipe
  • Time Management: Cooking various dishes to be done at the same time, prep work
  • Clean Up: Food sanitation concerns, properly freezing or storing ingredients and leftovers
  • Adapting: Ingredient substitutions, fixing mistakes

Promoting Mental Health Through Cooking

At first glance, it may not seem like mental health and cooking are related. However, consider the following:

  • Cooking requires focus and attention
  • The process of cooking leads to a tangible reward
  • Time spent cooking is time spent away from screens and social media 
  • It provides a sense of achievement to prepare something that other people need and enjoy
  • Learning any new skill boosts confidence and self-esteem 
  • It gives children and parents time to bond, and strong relationships are associated with lower rates of depression and anxiety

Like art or music, cooking provides a creative outlet. It allows someone to immerse themselves in a project and feel a sense of accomplishment when it’s complete. 

For those struggling with behavioral and mental health disorders, cooking can be a great way to build self-esteem, learn new skills, and connect with others.

Cooking and Mental Health Disorders

Cooking can be a valuable part of a holistic approach to therapy and healing. When the mind is focused on instructions, measuring, and monitoring progress, it’s not drowning in worry or anxiety.

Baking and cooking give people a sense of accomplishment, promoting self-esteem and independence. It’s an opportunity to practice the stress management, decision-making, and problem-solving techniques they’re learning in traditional therapy sessions.

When they’re finished cooking a meal or baking a treat, they have something they can share with others. This may create more opportunities to socialize and build stronger relationships. It allows people to contribute to a social gathering or a family meal, giving them a greater sense of belonging and value. 

Many treatment centers and therapy programs recognize the potential benefit of cooking for those with mental health disorders. The limited research that has been done on these benefits is promising and warrants further study. 

Learn More About Cooking With Kids and the Benefits With MCAW

The Massachusetts Center for Adolescent Wellness specializes in intensive outpatient therapy and day treatment for adolescents with mental health and behavioral concerns. We offer a variety of treatment options, combining evidence-based therapies with a holistic approach to support these teens and their families. Our approach is customized to ensure every child receives help based on their unique needs. 

Our therapies include:

  • Mindfulness-based therapy
  • Family, individual, and group therapy
  • Cognitivƒe-behavioral therapy
  • Dialectical behavior therapy
  • Trauma-informed therapy
  • Motivational interviewing
  • Art and music therapy

Many treatment programs include several types of therapy and various activities designed to help children explore new interests and build confidence. We encourage parents to connect with their children and find new ways to build a relationship with them. Cooking with children can play a role in this as it provides practice in mindfulness and focused attention as well as an opportunity to be creative and contribute to the family. 

Over the years, we’ve helped many adolescents with eating disorders, ADHD, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, OCD, thought disorders, and behavioral disturbances. If your child is struggling with behavioral or mental health concerns, contact us at MCAW to learn more about our programs.