Kids in the kitchen: how the experts teach their kids about healthy eating

Ensuring kids are eating and learning about nutritious foods is a challenge at the best of times – but even more so while many parents are working from home as well as managing their children’s home-learning.

Dinosaur snack fun

Ensuring kids are eating and learning about nutritious foods is a challenge at the best of times – but even more so while many parents are working from home as well as managing their children’s home-learning.

Many of IPAN’s nutrition experts are also juggling work at home with kids of all ages. We asked them how they encourage their own children to get involved in the kitchen and eating a range of healthy foods. Our experts have approached the experience as an opportunity to further engage their kids in healthy eating and food preparation.

Dr Rachel Laws, a Senior Lecturer in Public Health Nutrition at IPAN, says getting kids involved in the kitchen has a multitude of benefits.

“It’s amazing how much educational content can be covered off by planning and cooking a meal,” she said.

She’s created a series of cooking challenges suitable for primary school students (included below). The challenges include meal planning, budgeting, food preparation and cooking, helping to develop skills such as decision-making, reading, measurement and numeracy, and fine motor skills.

“It’s also a good way to give them a break from all the online home schooling and to give me a break from thinking about what to cook,” she said.

“This approach can also work well for fussy eaters who are more likely to try a meal that they have chosen and helped cook.”

A mum of teenagers, Dr Nicole Kiss, Clinical Research Fellow, Victorian Cancer Agency Nursing and Allied Health, says teenagers can help out with almost any recipe.

“It helps to get them involved in the meal planning, asking for their input into suggestions for dinner and following through with the preparation and cooking,” she said.

Senior Lecturer Nutrition Sciences, Dr Katie Lacy, says younger kids can help with simpler meals and snacks as well.

“Preschool children can practice counting and making shapes and letters with pieces of food while preparing snacks,” she said.

Enjoying ‘ants on a rock’


Get prepared

Senior Lecturer Dr Alison Spence says even though we’re at home more, thinking ahead will still save time and stress.

“During COVID-19 lockdown, at least it’s easy to predict who is going to be home for each meal – everyone! If you can prepare enough for dinner that it can be re-served for lunch or dinner the next day, then you’re not starting a meal from scratch twice a day,” she said.

She also suggests thinking about how food fits into your new family routine. If evenings with young kids are busy, it might be easier to fit in some food prep – such as chopping vegetables – at other times. Or it might even be easier to have the main meal at lunch.

Parents of teenagers know that food seems to evaporate in their house. Dr Kiss has learned the importance of maintaining a healthy supply.

“Teenagers always seem to be hungry, especially boys, so make sure you keep the fridge and pantry well stocked with healthy snack options such as wholegrain crackers and hommus, plain Greek yoghurt, home popped popcorn, fruit, wholemeal toast and peanut butter,” she said.


Older children can plan, prepare and cook a full meal – and do the washing up !

Making good food choices

For Dr Kristy Bolton, Senior Lecturer Nutrition Science, it has been important to keep a routine with her family.

“In our house it has been important to continue the ‘fruit breaks’ routine as per school and a ‘business as usual’ attitude to ensure the children eat enough fruit every day without making a big fuss about it,” she said.

Dr Spence said that if children may not be doing as much exercise or activity as they normally would, some may not need to eat as much as usual.

“Don’t force young children to finish their plate if they’re not hungry,” she said.

She also suggests not bringing too many sugary foods like lollies, soft drinks or biscuits into the house, so children don’t have extra energy to burn inside, and so parents don’t have the tricky task of saying “no” if children spot these in the cupboard.

And if ordering takeaway food occasionally, try to keep serves small, and add a bowl of microwaved frozen peas, punnet of cherry tomatoes, or raw carrot or capsicum to boost up the veggies in the meal.

Dr Kiss said many teenagers are drawn to foods and snacks high in sugar, fat and salt, and opt for convenient, highly-processed foods.

“I’ve found the lockdown period has been an opportunity to re-engage my teenagers with healthier eating since they are always home,” she said.

“One thing my kids have learned to cook is homemade burgers, using wholemeal rolls, homemade lean beef patties and lots of salad – satisfying their need for a burger and my need for a healthy meal.


Kitchen capers

Ideas to get kids involved in snack and meal prep

For younger children:


  • Large wholegrain crackers
  • Spread with peanut butter (no salt)
  • Cucumber semi-circles standing up on top

Ants on a rock

  • Core and quarter an apple, smear with some peanut butter and/or nut and seed paste (no added salt) and add a few sultanas on top of each quarter.

Breakfast ‘Dippy’ (Diplodocus)

  • One Weet-Bix biscuit as the body
  • Half of a small banana cut length-wise – one piece used as neck and other as tail
  • More banana cut into 4 legs
  • Sultana as an eye
  • Milk


For older children:

Mexican lasagne and salad 

By Dr Kristy Bolton


Low fat mince (amount depends on number of people you are feeding)

One onion (diced)

Can of corn

Can of red kidney beans

Taco seasoning (or make your own taco seasoning  e.g. 1 tbs cumin, 1 ½ tsp paprika, 1tsp onion powder/flakes, 1-2 tbs chili powder (according to taste preference), ½ tsp oregano, optional 1 tsp garlic powder – add enough for your taste)

Pack of wholegrain wraps

Low fat grated cheese


Salad vegetables (whatever is in the fridge, e.g. lettuce, tomatoes, carrot, olives, cucumber)

Low fat cheese to sprinkle on salad

Optional: dash of light sour cream on top when serving up.


  1.      Brown onion and mince in a fry pan
  2.      Add taco mix with ~3/4 cup water (follow directions if a commercial packet of seasoning) and simmer
  3.     Add kidney beans and corn and simmer
  4.     Lightly spray casserole/baking dish with cooking spray
  5.     Layer alternatively one wrap then some spoonfuls of meat/corn/beans, another wrap then mean/corn/beans mix until mix is exhausted
  6.     Add a thin layer of salsa and sprinkle lightly with cheese
  7.     Grill in oven until cheese has melted/browned
  8.     Dish up with salad and enjoy!

Children can help with layering the casserole dish (with caution as meat/corn/bean mix will be hot), adding salsa and cheese on top, preparation of salad vegetables, setting the table, getting out enough plates, cleaning up.


Helping to prepare colourful Mexican lasagne and salad

Homemade burgers (makes 6):

By Dr Nicole Kiss

Teenagers can make this meal using wholemeal rolls, homemade lean beef patties and lots of salad – satisfying their need for a burger as well as providing a healthy meal.


300g lean mice beef

1 onion, diced

1 egg

1 carrot, grated

½ cup breadcrumbs


Mix all ingredients together and form into 6 patties. Cook patties in a frypan with a tablespoon of olive oil. Serve on wholemeal rolls with tomato relish and lots of fresh salad.


Kids’ cooking challenge 

Suitable for primary school aged children and above

By Dr Rachel Laws

Read more about our contributors by clicking on their names below:

Kristy Bolton Senior Lecturer Nutrition Sciences

Nicole Kiss Clinical Research Fellow, Victorian Cancer Agency Nursing and Allied Health

Katie Lacy Senior Lecturer Nutrition Sciences

Rachel Laws Senior Lecturer in Public Health Nutrition

Alison Spence Senior Lecturer in Nutrition and Population Health

Click here for more information about Deakin IPAN’s research into physical activity and nutrition or follow us on Twitter @DeakinIPAN