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Man up in the kitchen
19February/2018

Man up in the kitchen

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WORDS FELICITY CURTAIN

It’s no surprise that favouring home cooking over takeaways and restaurant meals is a smart way to eat better, but new research has found dads are more active in the kitchen than men without kids, highlighting their important role in the family and the positive influence they have on kids’ health.

The research, carried out by the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA), found that 71 per cent of dads cook between two and five times each week, while a further 16 per cent are cooking more than six times per week. In comparison, 57 per cent of men without children cook between two and five times a week.

And while research has traditionally focused on mums’ influence on their kids’ dietary behaviours, another recent study from researchers at Deakin University1 put dads under the microscope, looking at their attitudes toward their kids’ eating.

Twenty fathers from a range of backgrounds in metropolitan Melbourne were interviewed, and a number of strong beliefs were uncovered, such as the importance of being a good ‘foodie role model’ and offering environments conducive to healthy eating. Interestingly, the results were no different based on education or employment, suggesting these instincts are deeply ingrained.

We know people who cook at home more often are likely to eat smaller portions, fewer kilojoules, and less saturated fat, salt, and sugar. In turn, this is likely to result in a healthy weight. Since kids’ tastes and eating habits are formed early in life, being exposed to healthy home-cooked meals is the best way to set the scene for a lifetime of healthy eating.

And while TV networks may have you thinking otherwise, there’s no need to be a MasterChef to hold your own in the kitchen. Healthy family cooking is all about building a basic recipe repertoire, with DAA’s research citing meat and veggies, spaghetti bolognese, curry, and stir-fries as dads’ top picks — all dishes that can be made healthily and prepared quickly.

But the effect of dads contributing to midweek meals is more than simply providing kids with healthy fare. Being a healthy role model by getting involved in the kitchen and encouraging family mealtime goes a long way in inspiring kids to adopt healthy habits right through to adulthood. But how else can you encourage healthy habits in kids?

Top tips to boost kids’ health through nutritious foods

  • Get them involved: Whether it’s helping out with the food shopping, cooking, preparation, or all three, getting kids involved is a great way to teach them about different foods, spark their interest and curiosity and instil good eating habits.
  • Master mealtimes: TV dinners are tempting after a long day, but sitting down around the table means we’re more likely to tune in to our food, rather than shovelling it in mindlessly. It’s also a valuable bonding time for families, allowing time to chat about goings on in the day.
  • Be a positive role model: Kids are observant and will pick up on the language you use around food, as well as your food behaviours. So, to inspire healthy kids, make sure you’re offering a good example.
  • Try, try, and try again! It’s not unusual for young kids to ‘fear’ unknown foods, but if continually exposed to foods from a young age, they will learn to like most foods. Research shows it can take 10 to 14 repeated exposures for kids to accept and enjoy foods, so it’s important to persist.

So to all the dads out there — well done! Your efforts in the kitchen (and as healthy role models for your children) are making a difference to your kids’ health and wellbeing now and into the future.

If you’re not a natural in the kitchen, why not try your hand at the cooking this week? With the benefits spanning the whole family, home cooking can go a long way in transforming healthy kids into healthy adults — and for dads in the kitchen, it could mean some extra brownie points from your partner!

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