If you have a picky eater at home, you are not alone. For many parents, dinner time can be a battle. Between changing tastes and an unwillingness to eat different foods and different textures, getting your kids to eat a healthy, balanced diet can be a challenge. Fortunately, a recent study offers help that could mean an end to the daily food fight.

Dr. Klazine van der Horst and her team of researchers found that when children were in the kitchen taking part in meal creation they cleaned more of their plate. Forty seven parents, accompanied by their child age six to 10 years, were asked to make and eat a meal. Half of the children were involved in making the meal from selecting vegetables for a salad to preparing the entrée. The other half played as their parent selected, sliced, and cooked.

The children that acted like mini sous chefs ate 27 per cent more of the entrée, 24 per cent more calories overall, and 76 per cent more salad. (Dr. Klazine van der Horst’s 2014 research paper is called “Involving children in meal preparation. Effects on food intake.”)

Helping out in the kitchen offers a fun way for kids – who love hands-on activities – to get involved. It also is a great way to instill a sense of ownership, pride, and control for kids in their food and meal times.

Beyond eating more at the dinner table, other research has found that cooking with kids is one of the keys to raising healthy kids. Children that are involved in meal and food preparation tend to be more aware of food values, the origin of foods, and the role of foods in energy balance.

Involve Kids in the Kitchen

Including children in food decisions and cooking can take many shapes and forms. While meal preparation and eating becomes somewhat automated and we might not regularly think about all the steps involved, there are actually quite a few.

Whatever your child’s age, there is something that they can do.

Brainstorm with your kids. Whether it’s planning the weekly menu or which vegetables to put in tonight’s meal, coming up with ideas together is a great way to help your kids feel included.

Measure and pour. If a recipe calls for a number of ingredients, put your child in charge of measuring and adding them as needed. Salad dressings are also a great measure and pour component that kids can make by themselves.

Shake and stir. Depending on the recipe, there might be a role for shaking, whisking, or stirring, which is a perfect hands-on activity for any kid.

Prepping and chopping. For younger kids, tearing lettuce and other greens by hand is a great way for them to contribute to any meal. Older kids, who can safely use scissors or knives, can chop or cut ingredients.

Grow a garden together. While this goes beyond the kitchen, growing a garden together in the summer or an indoor herb garden in the winter is a great way to get kids involved in their food.