One of the key features of the OMS program is that it really suits a whole family approach – not just for MS prevention in family members, but as a proven healthful way for all of us to live by. Having said that, if you are new to the program, or trying to introduce the program to your family members, then getting children to try new foods and be experimental can sometimes be a challenge.

Being a mum, a nutritional therapist and an avid home-cook it has always been important to me that my kids are involved with meal planning and cooking. They are now aged 21 and 16, and both very adept in the kitchen, able to cook family meals, as well as thoroughly enjoying impressing friends with their culinary skills!

As part of my clinical practice I often deal with whole families as well as individual family members, so I thought it might be helpful if I shared some of my tips on how to engage children during cooking and meal times. As an important part of family life it is a key strategy to encourage little ones to try new foods, as well as learn independence and important life skills for life beyond the home.

Make cooking part of family culture

By involving loved ones in cooking and meal planning, you are helping them have a better understanding of food choices and specifically the food choices you make by following Overcoming MS (OMS). Use the information on this page, to help talk through why your food decisions are so important and what food types can be enjoyed and which should be avoided.  

This graphic can be really useful to print off and keep on the fridge or somewhere handy in the kitchen so that all family members can quickly check ingredients of meals. 

OMS diet

If your kids are at an age in which they can take charge of one meal a week, let them! Giving kids the chance to choose a meal to cook and then make it for the whole family not only gives you some time off but allows them to feel responsible. 

This handy meal planner can help with deciding who's cooking each night and what needs to be bought at the shops.

Consider browsing recipe books together

Decide which meals they would like to cook/try during the week. I found this not only encourages children to want to try and taste different foods, but it also helps with meal planning and shopping lists for the week.

When picking recipes – and pictures in recipe books are a great way to entice the children – discuss with them how you can modify or adapt certain recipes to make them OMS compliant and more healthy for the family. This is a good way to allow them to see the flexibility of the OMS program and how easy and adaptable the choices are. For example, a cheesy sauce that can be remodelled with nut milk and nutritional yeast flakes; or a chicken dish that can be substituted with white fish.

When cooking or trying a new dish, encourage children to think about the different qualities of flavour, rather than ‘I like it / don’t like it’. Ask them instead to think about describing the flavour - is it sharp, is it sweet, is it peppery? Discuss with them the different textures too - is it crunchy, crispy, juicy, mushy?

We have put together some great recipes that kids will love to eat as well as cook! Following OMS diet recommendations shouldn't mean that meals have to feel 'different;' to perhaps what other families are eating. Take a look at this list below:

Use cooking to teach your kids new skills

There are so many lessons that can be taught through cooking with our children.

  • Counting and understanding measurements are useful skills which can be developed through following recipes. 
  • Depending on the age of your children, it can be a great opportunity while cooking together to talk through food choices and OMS diet recommendations. Explaining how food changes with temperature and how certain foods can help our body are great examples of this. 
  • Following a recipe from start to finish also helps build the skills for planning and completing projects. 
  • Teach them a fun fact about the food they are cooking: remark on the vibrant colours of a healthy salad; the delicious brain-healthy oils in a piece of mackerel; the vitamin C in juicy berries that keeps us from getting coughs and colds; the fibre in brown rice that keep our gut gardens / friendly bacteria fed!

Make it fun!

Regardless of what age they are encourage them to put on their music while you cook. This creates a relaxing atmosphere and offers talking / singing opportunities too. Over the years we’ve gone from singing the usual nursery rhymes to a musical education for me in Grime, Drum & Bass and now Jazz! 

Regardless of how young, they can still get involved.

Small jobs like laying the table, fetching things from the drawers/cupboards (a good idea to keep certain items at reach for smaller arms), or helping wash veggies or clear plates is empowering for little ones and provides an opportunity for praise and gratitude to make them feel proud.

Introduce a variety of foods

Research now suggests the wider the variety of foods in our diet, the healthier our overall digestion. Use cooking opportunities to encourage yourself and your family to try and taste new or different foods. Perhaps buy a vegetable, nut or tin of beans you’re not familiar with, and have a go at trying something new for everyone. Discuss what you like about it and what you don’t like about it – try to reserve judgement and remember it’s fine not to like every food.

Picky eaters

Sometimes children are happy to prep a meal or help with baking but then don’t want to try the finish product. That’s fine, but don’t give up. Encourage them to taste and try some of the ingredients along the way so that eventually they do become more adventurous.

Keep expectations low

Lower yours and your children’s expectations – rarely does a dish look exactly like the photo-shopped picture in the recipe book - but it will always be delicious if the ingredients are tasty! Do aim to be specific with instructions though, as this can help children learn to get things right first time. 

Sing their praises

We all appreciate praise and gratitude, which builds confidence and will improve children’s willingness and skills. Be sure to thank your children for their efforts in the kitchen, and remember to compliment them for their help and the meals / dishes they prepare.

One of the other upsides to having my kids help in the kitchen is the extra time it gives us together as a family to discuss the day and hear about what they are up to. Not only does it give me an excuse to get them off their screens, but I am proud to say they have become budding chefs in their own rights, keen to find their own new recipes and share new skills with us – my son is currently home-pickling a huge jar of cucumbers!

Have some other tips on this topic you want to share with the community? Leave them in the comments below.