Lisa Golden Schroeder has been in and around kitchens her entire life. From writing about food and photographing food, to going to culinary school on a Julia Child fellowship, she knows what she’s talking about. She is the owner of foodesigns, a consulting company that does food styling for commercial photography, a cookbook editor and writer, and works commercially for food companies.
“Giving children the exposure to what good, healthy food is and allowing them to be a part of it, whether it’s growing it, going to the grocery store and buying it, giving them an opportunity in the kitchen to help prepare it, is important,” Schroeder says.
Schroeder believes that teaching knife skills early is one good way to get your child involved in the kitchen and the first step in bringing your family closer by sitting down to a meal.
Schroeder has always been a big advocate of teaching kids where food comes from. She believes that it is important to expose children to a wide variety of foods early on so that they develop curiosity about cooking.
In 2009, when Schroeder’s children were younger, she and other parent volunteers helped expand garden space in front of Mahtomedi’s upper elementary school to include a community garden with a teaching component. She developed a curriculum to work with kids in the before-and-after school program and the summer Mahtomedi Adventure Club.
Schroeder and other parents did tastings with the younger kids. “I used a lot of instant gratification crops—things they could harvest that are fast-growing, like radishes and carrots,” she says.
“Cooking with your kids is about the excitement and exploration of what food is,” says Schroeder. “The kids won’t eat it if it has never lived in your house.”
The kitchen is an excellent space to develop skills for both parents and children outside of preparing food, too. Working as a team bonds families, and following recipes teaches kids to follow directions. “Getting kids used to using the stove and the microwave can prevent them from burning the house down later,” Schroeder says, laughing.
Teaching kids things like turning pot handles inward and cleaning up after yourself gives them skills far beyond a four-burner. And establishing a team dynamic while respecting the child enough to give them responsibility helps build a strong bond while encouraging creativity and independence, says Schroeder.
“If you present helping in the kitchen to your kids as, ‘I’m doing this because I love you, and this is good for all of us, and because we are hungry,’ then they will buy in,” says Schroeder.
Teaching kids to respect food is just one aspect of cooking. Taking the time and effort to scratch-cook avoids some of today’s junk-food pitfalls.
Making sure that when kids get hungry, the food they have around is healthy is the first step in changing kids’ relationship with food. You can’t control how they eat with their friends, or at school, but setting a good example in the home is an important first step, says Schroeder.
“I strongly believe that if you don’t teach kids where food comes from, and how to find it, how to handle it and how to eat it, we’re going to continue to have a really unhealthy population,” says Schroeder.
As a food stylist, Schroder knows that, in modern times, healthy food and scratch cooking can often get conflated with high-priced foods. With celebrity chefs walking red carpets and Minneapolis opening restaurants with high-priced tasting menus, it can seem that way. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you simply have children help set the table and put vegetables on plates— simple scratch-cooked meals bring together the family just the same.
“Eating good, real food, doesn’t exclude anybody,” says Schroeder.
Schroeder says being able to designate a time at least once a week to set the table and be physically together makes all the difference. Putting food that the family has helped prepare on plates gives everyone a sense of satisfaction and is a positive family experience.
“I think it’s really important for kids to be exposed to and eat food and experience food in ways beyond doing the drive-thru” at a fast food restaurant, says Schroeder.
Lisa Golden Schroeder’s go-to mac and cheese recipe is perfect for making with your kiddos. Find the recipe here.