Ask a dietitian: advice to get your family inspired and in the kitchen together

Feeling a bit stuck getting started at enjoying meals as a family? We asked Registered Dietitian and Better Together BC alumna Nicole Spencer for her advice on some of the most common questions we receive.

A child and youth public health dietitian for the Vancouver community, Nicole is passionate about promoting public health by inspiring curiousity and enjoyment with eating.

Better Together BC: Why is preparing and enjoying meals with your family so important?

Nicole Spencer, RD: Life with young kids can be so busy and chaotic! Amidst it all, I find getting in the kitchen or around the table as a family really helps me feel more connected to my kids. I think it’s because when it comes to cooking and eating, it’s something we’re creating and sharing together. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not picture perfect. There can be arguing and strong opinions. And it can be really messy. But it’s also a chance for my kids to feel heard and tell me what’s on their mind. And if I ask nicely and don’t take it all too seriously, they may just help with the clean up—after all, a flour tornado can always be swept up.

And you know what, they eat better. When they’re in the kitchen with me, even if it’s just mixing eggs in a bowl, they’re much more likely to eat some of what they’ve helped prepare. The same goes for eating together. It can take a long time but my kids are starting to model what they see me do. One of my 5-year old’s favourite foods (along with ice cream) is bok choy. And I trust, in time, my 3-year old will eat green vegetables too…one day.

BT: Our family is so busy, we don't have time to prepare food together. What do I do?

NS: Oh my goodness, don’t we live in the pressure cooker age?! So many rules for how we “should” do things and there’s never enough time for anything. Plus it can all be so tiring! My best advice is to start small. Pick one time of the day on one day of the week when you can create a little more time than usual. Choose a recipe that you feel confident making and that the kids are interested in too. For me, the easiest time is after lunch on Saturdays. My kids have full tummies from lunch so they’re not “hangry”. We prepare a snack that can be eaten that afternoon with leftovers frozen to have for other snack times. Oh yes, the other thing that I find helpful is not to put pressure on them to help. Often, at least one of my kids will come and go throughout the process. Of course when it’s time to lick beaters or bowls, that’s when they’re both very present! Over time, they’ve started showing interest in small jobs during other busier cooking times. My eldest can be quite helpful when I need a bunch of eggs cracked or vegetables washed!

BT: How can I make meal times more pleasant with my kids?

NS: Mealtimes can be so loud and stressful! One thing we do to make things more enjoyable is to NOT focus on the food. My favourite way to make this happen is by going around the table and giving everyone the chance to share their “peach and the pit of the day”. It steers the conversation away from things like whether or not someone is eating their food, whether someone is making a mess with their food, or whether someone finds their food tastes gross…none of which is helpful to engage with! I don’t think my 3-year old understands what a “pit” is as she generally just provides a second “peach”, but that’s OK too! There are no rules about how to respond, it’s just about sharing with each other and being in the moment together. Plus, I love hearing about the things that everyone found to be the most pleasurable and most challenging from the day. Sometimes we throw in “what was the silliest thing that happened today?” That one is the most popular with my 5-year old…in fact, sometimes she shares something silly instead of a pit! Any way we can take the pressure off ourselves and our kids puts us in a better position to enjoy our food, which leads to healthier eating in the long run.

Ready to get cooking? Check out our recipe archives for easy recipes to try as a family, and head to our Learning section for more tips and advice. Or, join us on Facebook and Instagram, where we're posting fresh ideas and resources every day!

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