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Young children can help with simple tasks in the kitchen, such as washing vegetables

FamVeld/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Craig and Marc Kielburger founded Free The Children and Me to We. Their biweekly Brain Storm column taps experts and readers for solutions to social issues.

Growing up, we saved our best questions for the supper table. How did the universe begin? Why are there poor people? What's the deal with girls?

Enlightening conversations would happen before we even sat down, as Dad showed us how to make his famous lasagna, or assemble a veggie-filled salad. (It's not his fault our culinary skills never evolved past cooking noodles and chopping carrots.)

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We attribute our lifelong fascination with current events and social issues to those moments of our family connected around food.

Experts now say that simply eating at the same table doesn't guarantee bonding. Rather it's our ability to do something together without distraction, like cooking food, that fosters conversation and connection.

Getting children involved in family meal planning and preparation builds not only bonds, but also healthier noshing habits.

A study from the University of Alberta found children who help cook family meals are more likely to choose fruits and veggies over junk food. Impressive in an era when 62 per cent of Canadians get their energy from ultra-processed foods, less than one in five of us make a meal from scratch once a day, and more than two-thirds of young Canadian adults feel incapable of employing even basic skills in the kitchen. (Does boiling water count? We've got that task taken care of.)

Our famous noodle and carrot creation is something to aspire to. But more likely it's the other things we gained while cooking and chopping with Dad that got us where we are today.

This week's question: What's your best tip for getting kids engaged in family meals?

THE EXPERTS

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Jess Haines, associate professor of applied nutrition at the University of Guelph:

"Create a weekly schedule and menu for your family meals. Use mobile apps like Cookspiration.com to find recipes and Pepperplate.com to plan meals and shopping lists. Also, family meals don't have to happen at dinner. If breakfast works for your family, enjoy that meal together."

Sarah Elton, author, Starting from Scratch: What You Should Know about Food and Cooking, Toronto:

"Teach your kids the basic skills they need to cook from scratch – knife safety, how to use the stove, and how to make the building blocks of meals, like sauces and salad dressings. Then take a step back and let them lead in the kitchen. Let them choose the recipes and then try not to hover as they prepare the food. They will feel independent and have skills for life."

Sheila Tyminski, director of nutrition services for Alberta Health Services, Calgary:

"Kids as young as age three can wash vegetables. By age 12 they can prepare entire meals. A healthy meal can be as simple as a stir fry, wrap or omelette – don't forget the veggies!"

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