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Empowering Parents to Cook With Their Kids Helps Families To Thrive

I believe it's a parent or guardian's duty to help teach their kids about food.

15/07/2016 9:27 AM AEST | Updated 16/07/2016 5:38 AM AEST
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Just over 17 years ago, back in April 1999, I appeared on television in the first episode of The Naked Chef. Even in those very early days, my intention was just to inspire viewers to get in the kitchen and give cooking a go, just as Delia Smith and Keith Floyd had inspired me with their programmes. I particularly wanted to get the boys back in the kitchen -- for some reason cooking had got a bad rep among the lads and they seemed to be dragging their heels a bit. I wanted to prove that cooking wasn't just for women.

I had no idea then just how much of a phenomenon The Naked Chef would become, and looking back to that time, I never would have thought then that I'd be sitting here today writing for The Huffington Post and kicking off their Thriving Families month.

So it turns out that I did inspire quite a few people, and many of them were mums and dads. I'll never forget being chased down the street by this big, muscley bloke one day and when he caught up with me, I genuinely thought my days were numbered and he was going to punch me but he simply smiled and said: "My missus said I should start cooking because of you and if I'd seen you a few weeks ago, I would have lumped you. But actually, I'm really enjoying cooking and I'm better than you now!" That was one of those moments where I started to understand just how powerful food can be in changing people's lives for the better.

When I decided to tackle school food a few years later, it was because I knew that if you could improve food for kids for the 190 days of the year that they're in school, and in lots of cases that's two meals a day eaten away from the home, then that would be a huge and significant step towards improving their general nutrition.

And that's powerful stuff, don't get me wrong, but the true battle is one that happens in the home.

That's why the YouGov research carried out by The Huffington Post UK this week is really interesting but also slightly worrying -- the results mean we still have a very long way to go when it comes to inspiring parents to cook better food for their kids. The fact that 18 percent of parents admit to telling fibs about what they feed their children suggests that there are many parents who know they should be cooking more nutritious meals but, for whatever reason, feel that they can't.

More concerning still, is the statistic suggesting that only 21 percent of parents are cooking from scratch every day, which means that the majority of kids are still eating processed food. When you read figures like this, it's hardly a surprise to learn that around one in five children is overweight or obese before they even start primary school.

Two other pieces of recent research are also worth a mention. Cancer Research UK reported earlier this month that children regarded junk food advertising as "addictive" with one saying that it made them want to "lick the TV screen". Meanwhile, the Infant & Toddler Forum's own study found that 79 percent of parents were over-estimating portion sizes for their kids.

Taken together, in addition to regular warnings from the British Medical Association, British Dental Association, National Obesity Forum and dozens of other expert bodies working in health and nutrition, this research makes for quite terrifying reading.

Now I'm not out to make anyone feel bad, and I know that being time poor can be a really big factor in what decisions you make, but cooking from scratch doesn't have to mean slaving over a stove for hours. What I really want to do is continue to inspire and empower all you parents out there who want to feed you kids better, to feel that you have the weapons in your arsenal to do so, whether it's quick fixes, batch cooking, slow cooking, whatever works for you. I've spent over 10 years working in food education, providing tools to help people learn to cook, whether it's buying a cookbook, watching a TV show or taking a cookery course, or of course, taking advantage of all the free stuff out there on my website that's readily available at your fingertips.

A study carried out in Australia by Deakin University showed that people who took my Ministry of Food course were more likely to continue to cook from fresh, eat more fruit and vegetables, and generally feel healthier and more confident. There's another study to come next week by the University of Leeds. Knowing how to cook is an essential life skill. It enables you to feed yourself and your family, better, and in the bigger picture it is invaluable in the global fight against diet-related disease and obesity.

This brings us back to the HuffPost UK survey results, which reveal that just 12 percent of parents cook with their children every day, with one in 10 saying that they never cook with their kids at all.

To me, this is shocking and to be honest, just really sad for those kids. Cooking together is such a joy (Okay, it's messy but you've just got to embrace that before you start -- the results are worth it) and it's also one of the main reasons why some children have a wider variety of foods in their diets. If kids are involved in growing and cooking food, then they're far more likely to eat it.

That sense of ownership can't be beaten. Start them young, just tearing up fresh herbs, bashing up spices or even squishing fruit, and they'll be well on the way to being healthier young people. If you're stuck for ideas, there's loads of info from me and my lovely wife on JamieOliver.com.

I believe it's a parent or guardian's duty to help teach their kids about food. For those 175 days a year when they're not at school, we should be inspiring them with a range of fresh foods. I hope that the government's long overdue Childhood Obesity Strategy will include measures to help parents, particularly those on a budget.

Cooking with kids is fun. And more importantly, it's likely to help them towards living long and healthy lives. So if you do one thing this holiday, get in the kitchen -- or even go a bit Huckleberry Finn and do it outdoors -- but please, just start cooking with your children -- you won't look back.

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The Huffington Post UK is spearheading an initiative helping families thrive, with a focus on parent wellbeing, the challenges facing stay-at-home and working parents, friendships and navigating the landscape of modern parenting beyond the 2.4. To kickstart the campaign, Jamie Oliver will be guest editor on 15 July 2016, bringing a focus on feeding healthy families.

Jamie's new cookbook Super Food Family Classics, published by Penguin, is on sale at $55.

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