Maths, reading and nutrition: everything kids can learn from cooking

Clare Collins, Professor of Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Newcastle, Berit Follong, PhD Student in Mathematical Education and Nutrition, University of Newcastle, Tamara Bucher, Researcher, University of Newcastle, originally published in The Conversation.

Learning to prepare healthy meals allows the youngest to acquire knowledge in various fields. And that will help all of you, as an added bonus, to improve your diet.

By focusing on nutritionally good recipes, you will also cover topics related to personal development, health, and physical education.

Learn in situation

Being able to apply math and science concepts to everyday activities helps children develop self-confidence.

Following a recipe refers to a certain number of fundamental subjects, such as French, since this requires reading and comprehension work. Weighing the ingredients and evaluating the necessary doses involves mobilizing math concepts such as volumes and measurements, and sharpens the ability to solve problems.

With the aim of preparing a healthy meal, children are given opportunities to reactivate and consolidate all this knowledge, while developing their motivation and their communication skills.

A study carried out among eighteen primary school classes looked at lessons dealing with math and science through practical activities around nutrition. The students concerned not only improved their knowledge in the field of food, but they also made significant progress in math and science, if we compare their results to those of the sixteen classes that did not benefit from these courses. .

A review of classroom interventions around healthy eating shows that learning in a situation such as cooking or gardening has the most impact in terms of knowledge and eating habits.

This is particularly the case when it comes to encouraging children to eat more fruits and vegetables and reduce their daily intake of sugar and calories.

Better nutrition

Taking Australia as an example, foods with high energy density, but low in nutrients, account for a third of daily energy intake – and even 41%, in the case of children and adolescents.

According to official recommendations, you should limit junk food and try to reach five servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit each day to protect yourself from chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart problems. Only one in twenty-one in seventeen children would comply with these recommendations.

Involving children and adolescents in the preparation of their meals helps them adopt healthier eating habits. Follow-up of a group of 47 children showed that they ate 26% more chicken and 76% more salad when they cooked with their parents, and felt better than when their parents cooked alone.

Just watching cooking shows can make all the difference. In a survey of 100 children aged 10 to 12, it was found that they were twice as likely to choose a healthy menu after completing a healthy food cooking program.

The challenges of recipes

It’s quite common for kids to think they don’t like math, and engagement in math tends to decline globally. It is therefore important to find new ways to interest children in it.

Cooking is a good way to bring to life in the eyes of children concepts that seem abstract to them. Show them how to compare, measure, classify foods using units of mass, length, area and volume.

Basic math skills are essential for accurately estimating quantities needed, following recipes and decoding product labels.

This obvious link between cooking, nutrition and math sheds light on the potential available to improve learning in both fields.

To further challenge your children’s math skills, limit cooking utensils, which will require them to do a few simple operations. For example, if you need a cup (250 ml) of rice for a recipe, use a container equivalent to a quarter cup (62.5 ml) instead and ask your children to find how many servings they should add.

Vary the kitchen utensils, for example use a graduated carafe rather than a cup, to decipher the measurements, have them pour the contents of the cup into the carafe and vice versa.

Cooking also gives you the opportunity to discuss important nutrition topics with your child. If children easily identify healthy foods, they have a harder time determining which foods are unhealthy and why.

Before you start cooking, try to relate each ingredient to its basic food group, or calculate the portions you need to add to stick to the recipe.

The art of food

When healthy foods like spinach and fruit are presented in a fun and creative way, children are more likely to eat them, research confirms.

Why not mix art and cuisine? There are plenty of resources out there for making healthy cooking fun, quick, and inexpensive.

In a challenge around fast food, we showed in video how classics like hamburger or pizza can be prepared in a healthy way, at low prices. And some projects also offer activities combining nutrition and measures.


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