Kids eating too much processed foods? Your cooking may be to blame

Sally Squires on how parents can cut down on processed foods

If you want your kids to eat fewer processed foods, you might want to brush up on your cooking skills.

Nearly a dozen studies, ranging from Brazil to the U.K., reviewed the home cooking skills of parents and assessed what impact that had on their children eating so-called “ultra-processed” foods, such as chips, candy and fast food.

“The majority of these studies showed that if parents are confident about their cooking skills — especially if they feel pretty good about cooking red meat, beans, pasta, vegetables — they’re much more likely to make meals at home for their families,” said Sally Squires, who writes for the Lean Plate Club™ blog. “And as a result, their kids then eat less processed food.”

Parents who are confident in their cooking skills are less likely to go out to eat or grab takeout for dinner, she said.

“If parents are feeling confident about their cooking skills, then they’re more likely to just fix a meal at home,” Squires added.

Still, parents these days are often strapped for time. Even if they’re cooking whizzes, how can they find the time to cook healthy meals for their families?

Squires said meal planning is key.

“It’s just so important to plan meals ahead,” she said. “Have a well-stocked refrigerator, pantry and freezer. And then cook in batches.”

Go ahead and cook the entire batch of wild rice, but freeze the leftovers and you can serve it up later in the week as an additional side dish or add it to a soup you’re making, Squires suggested.

Also, let the grocery store act as your sous chef. Look for partially assembled meals and salads, precut vegetables, precut and marinated meat.

“There are all kinds of things that can be timesavers in the kitchen,” she said.

Finally, don’t skimp on the opportunity to turn dinner time into family time.

“I don’t think we can underscore this more: Eating together as a family is absolutely critical,” Squires said, pointing to a recent study in the Journal of Adolescent Health. That study found that teens who ate fewer than three meals a week with their families were more likely to smoke tobacco, marijuana, abuse prescription drugs and drink alcohol.

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