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Making Mondays Family Night
By Kathy Hardy

Visions of sugarplums may be dancing in the minds of some children this holiday season, but many kids also are setting their sights on healthful foods that are fun to prepare and delicious to eat. One such group includes participants in The Kids Cook Monday program, a public health initiative that dedicates the first day of the week to preparing nutritious foods as a family.

"Spending time together as a family is a holiday tradition that we incorporate throughout the year," says Diana Rice, RD, a public relations associate with The Monday Campaigns in New York City. "Families often bake together during the holidays, and we see baking as the gateway to cooking."

The Kids Cook Monday, launched in 2010 in partnership with Columbia University in New York, is a program of The Monday Campaigns, a nonprofit marketing initiative that started with Meatless Mondays in 2003. The mission of The Kids Cook Monday is to encourage kids to develop the culinary skills necessary to prepare healthful meals for themselves later in life and to promote regular family dinners.

Why Monday?
Rice says Monday is when everyone looks to get a good start on the week. She cites evidence suggesting that healthful thinking is linked to Monday, as the day people are most open to adopting healthful behaviors. For example, a study published in the July 2014 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine presented an analysis of health-related Google searches from 2004 to 2012 showing a consistent pattern of spikes at the beginning of the week.

"Because of our research demonstrating that Monday is the day we are most primed to introduce a healthy change, we hope families will commit to getting into the habit of cooking together week after week," Rice says.

Resources for RDs
The Kids Cook Monday program is versatile enough that RDs in all aspects of practice can tailor its features to fit their clients' and patients' needs. An RD who works in a counseling setting can distribute The Kids Cook Monday recipes (free to download at www.thekidscookmonday.org/recipes). Recipes include a list of ingredients, a brief description of the recipe's nutritive value, and a list of preparation instructions divided by who should handle each step—kids, adults, or both.

Recipes, cooking tips, and conversation-starters also are e-mailed through a weekly Family Dinner Date Newsletter, which families can sign up for at www.thekidscookmonday.org/family-dinner-date-newsletter. RDs who participate in the program provide some of the content for the newsletter.

"This program and the tools it provides help eliminate the intimidation factor that many adults have when it comes to cooking nutritious meals for their families, particularly those who were never involved in the food preparation process as children," says Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RDN, CDN, director and owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC, which has offices in New York City and Long Island, New York. "Participants learn how to manipulate food and to become more familiar with ingredients. They also learn you don't have to become a gourmet chef to prepare healthful meals."

Taub-Dix says that The Kids Cook Monday program provides a good base for building a whole-family nutrition plan. She recommends using the program with children of any age. Little hands can stir ingredients while older kids can learn more about the benefits of healthful eating, she says.

"Getting kids involved in the cooking process gives them a taste of what you're doing in the kitchen," she says. "It's like a ripple in the water. You start with cooking together and then you'll see the effects even beyond cooking food. As adults, kids who participate in the cooking process as a family will pass along what they've learned to the next generation."

Benefits for Retail RDs
RDs who work in retail settings such as grocery stores can partner with The Kids Cook Monday initiative to gain more recognition for certain brands or food items, while exposing their customers to the benefits of these featured items. Kristin Humes, RDN, CD, health and wellness advisor for Martin's Super Markets, based in South Bend, Indiana, hosts in-store cooking classes, using recipes from the program that incorporate products within its stores.

Humes integrates concepts from The Kids Cook Monday into Martin's Kids' Club program, which is administered throughout 22 stores in Indiana and southwest Michigan. Kids' Club members, ranging from ages 5 to 12, receive a free produce item each month. Humes works with Rice to develop a recipe using that item.

"I can print the recipe and display it next to the free item being promoted to Kids' Club members that month," she says.

Humes relies on The Kids Cook Monday Toolkit for Families to give families ideas for meals they can plan and cook together (available at www.thekidscookmonday.org/toolkits). At times, however, she sees a need for more personalized programming alternatives.

"It's good that I can work with The Kids Cook Monday personnel to come up with programming tailored to the needs of Martin's customers," she says. "Having tools and resources available makes it easier for me to promote the program throughout our stores."

Humes' next step is to incorporate The Kids Cook Monday program into school presentations she gives throughout the community. She plans to use recipes and conversation prompts included in the educators' toolkit (also available at www.thekidscookmonday.org/toolkits). Part of the preparation for this in-school programming includes working with teachers to include a book with a nutrition theme to help make healthful food choices more relatable to young children.

Holiday Programming
During the holiday season, Rice says The Kids Cook Monday is compiling recipes and tips with a seasonal flair. With family members gathered together to celebrate the season, it's a good time to use the extra hands for helping with tasks and brainstorming new menu ideas.

Rice also has published blog content for The Kids Cook Monday website focused on holiday food and fun. Visit www.thekidscookmonday.org/blog to view blog posts.

"We'll be asking families to tell us what they're cooking together for the holidays," she says. "That's a great way for participants to share their healthful holiday traditions with each other."

For more information about The Kids Cook Monday program, visit www.thekidscookmonday.org.

— Kathy Hardy is a freelance writer and editor based in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.