Family Cooking

It’s a snowy Sunday morning.  You get out the package of blueberry muffin mix.  You begin peeling some apples for added appeal.  The kids are watching TV in the next room.  Your spouse is checking emails.  The household is quiet.  Sound idyllic?  Perhaps… but it could be better… much better, and much more educational.  Here’s what’s wrong with this picture:

  1. Do you know what your children are watching? According to a new study in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, each additional hour of TV that children watch per week translates into poorer classroom behavior, lower math scores, less physical activity, and more unhealthy snacking by age 10. "Kids should be doing things that are intellectually enriching: playing with board games, playing with things that will improve their motor skills, and reading," says the lead author of the study, Linda Pagani, Ph.D., a professor in the School of Psychoeducation at the University of Montreal, in Quebec.  Additionally, TV should be viewed as a family so you can discuss what your children are watching. 
  2. Have you read the ingredients on the box of muffin mix?  Many have controversial ingredients such as partially hydrogenated oils, artificial colors, and BHT.  Hydrogenation of oil is unhealthy because of its unnatural use of hydrogenation which forms trans-fats that the body cannot break down and digest.  Artificial colors such as Red 40 may contribute to cancer and could trigger hyperactivity in children.  The FDA says that the possibility that BHT may convert other ingested substances into toxic or cancer-causing additives should be further investigated. BHT is prohibited as a food additive in the United Kingdom.  It’s best to start from “scratch!”
  3. Are you doing all the work? Just as teachers have turned from direct instruction to cooperative learning, families need to transform from the single-cook model to the cooperative cook system.  Everybody can help prepare the meal.  Everybody can help clean up.  And everybody can take pride in a job well done.  Distribute the load for an easier meal preparation experience. 
  4. Have you missed an educational opportunity?  Kitchen activities are loaded with opportunities to learn STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), social studies, and problem-solving.  When your children help prepare the muffins, they learn measurement, how to follow directions, nutritional lessons, kitchen safety, and depending on your recipe, food from a different culture.   Always look for teachable moments!

What can you do instead? First, tell your family that you’re going to have fun in the kitchen and ask the kids to temporarily turn off the TV (Don’t cut them off cold turkey at first – you’ll likely get opposition).  Next, assign tasks by age and/or ability.  Third, put on some music for added fun.  Surprise your family with the new way of preparing a weekend breakfast.  Let’s look at the introductory scenario again:

It’s a snowy Sunday morning.  Everyone eagerly puts on an apron and washes their hands.  You show them the recipe of the day, hand out assignments, and begin the muffin preparation.  Eight-year-old Amanda measures the ingredients and hands the measuring cup to Jack. Five-year-old Jack knows that his job is to carefully put the measured ingredients into the bowl.  Twelve-year-old Linda stirs the mixture and pours it into the muffin pan.  One of the adults turns on the oven and places the muffins into the oven.  While the muffins bake, everyone participates in cleaning up the utensils and setting the table for breakfast.  Twenty minutes later, everyone tells what they learned and how they are proud of their accomplishments. 

In the second scenario, in addition to the intellectual lessons, this family is connecting on a personal level that does not involve electronics – no TV, no computer, and no phone.  Good old conversation and cooperation has replaced somewhat violent cartoon programs and the impersonal detachment that comes with reading emails and text messages. 

It’s time to bring your family back together, even if only for one snowy morning when you’re stuck together anyway!

Renee Heiss is a retired Family Consumer Sciences teacher and the author of Everybody Cooks! STEM Facts and Recipes for Family Cooperation and Healthier Eating – Holiday Favorites edition.  In this spiral-bound book, each recipe includes STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)facts, easy-to-understand nutritional information, nutritional alternatives to packaged food products, and recipes creatively arranged by each chef’s age and/or ability.  Everybody Cooks! STEM Facts and Recipes for Family Cooperation and Healthier Eating – Holiday Favorites edition has earned the Mom’s Choice Awards Silver Certificate for excellence in family-friendly media, products and services.  It is available for $15.95 at