It’s 9 PM, well past dinnertime, yet TVs across America are tuned into the latest cooking show. Given the rise in popularity of watching celebrity chefs, you may find it surprising that the number of families in America who actually cook in their kitchens is shrinking.
Dietitians have a very important role to fill—to dive deeper into the lives of clients and their use, or lack thereof, of the kitchen. Goals should include not only education on the issues that brought them to your office but also a step beyond; dietitians must ensure patients have the skills needed to prepare healthful, flavorful, homemade foods according to recommended dietary patterns.
If your client falls into the 40% of those who don’t cook at home, find out why. Do they need to learn basic cooking skills? Do they feel they don’t have the time to cook? Are they sick of complaining kids or spouses and buy prepackaged foods because their family enjoys these foods more and therefore complain less?
Once you have the answer, focus your instruction on solving the issues presented. Helping clients acquire better kitchen skills and educating them on easy ways to flavor foods can help immensely.
Here are six tips and ideas to help get clients back into the kitchen cooking simple, healthful meals.
- Employ local cooking resources. Research free or low-cost cooking classes and demonstrations in your area. Check with supermarkets, community centers, local organizations, community colleges, or online resources, including Cook Smarts, the Epicurious’ No Recipe Required video series, and the Taste of Home Online Cooking School. Put together a local resource guide, and encourage clients to attend.
- Start with the basics. Gather simple instructional handouts ranging from preparing hardboiled eggs to roasting vegetables, and give them to clients. Provide information on seasoning food, thermometer use, and safe cooking temperatures.
- Stock a healthful pantry. Educate clients on stocking their pantry and refrigerator with spices and basic staples, examples of which can be found here. Discuss simple ideas that easily can be prepared from these basics so clients can learn how to prepare a flavorful meal quickly.
- Use simple recipes. Gather five simple dinner recipes that have the same or similar ingredients (diced onions, browned meat, etc). Teach clients to prep several recipes at once, saving the extra prepped items for later in the week. When clients can grab ready-to-go ingredients from the fridge on a busy night to make a meal, this will save them time and make it easier to get meals on the table quickly.
- Plan ahead. Educate on time management skills for meal planning and meal preparation. Together, develop a written schedule that works.
- Involve the whole family. Encourage clients to include children in preparing meals one night per week. This is key to help reduce complaining and get families trying new foods. Even toddlers can have simple tasks such as breaking vegetables into small pieces or helping stir. Ownership of a recipe and meal encourages food acceptance. Children also gain insight into the time and effort required to get food on the table.
With these tools, dietitians can help decrease the number of families dependent on dining out or eating prepackaged meals. By educating clients on the importance of healthful, home-cooked meals, RDs also influence the younger generations who live in these homes. Dietitians can and should be the force behind shifting our culture towards eating more healthful, home-cooked meals.
— Jodi Danen, RDN, is a family nutrition blogger at Create Kids Club. She’s creator of Lunch Bites lunch box note cards. Her passion and focus is on getting families back into the kitchen.