Involving your kids in the kitchen enhances their appreciation and basic knowledge of different foods and good nutrition. You can teach them safe ways to handle food as well as simple cooking techniques. Plus, the time spent together is invaluable family time and encourages a lifetime of healthy eating.
Starting around age 3, you're sure to have a "helper" in the kitchen, underfoot and ready for anything. Put him to work making a simple fruit salad. Bring a chair to the sink and let him help you wash the fruit, dump the ingredients into a large bowl, and stir everything together. Show your child how to pull the peel off the fruit while you take care of the sectioning. Make sure to use a deep bowl when combining–otherwise, some of the ingredients may end up on the floor.
Cookies are a favorite for children, and by age 4, they should be able to help measure and spoon out cookies onto a baking sheet. While the cookies bake, let them squeeze lemons to make some homemade lemonade to go with the cookies. They love responsibility, so assign them a task and your kitchen to-do list will fly by as they work.
At this age, kids are old enough to count and follow instructions at the same time, so have them count out the ingredients (18 slices of polenta) for this yummy sausage lasagna. It's packed with veggies and because your child helped prepare it, she's much more likely to eat what's on her plate. Give her a measuring cup and have her measure out the vegetable amounts as you chop them.
School-age kids are all about rules, so let them help plan the menu for the week. Have them call out what spices you have on hand in the pantry (sound it out! "Car-do-mom."). Roll up their sleeves and let the kids measure the flour, knead the dough, and try a hand a cracking an egg. When you prepare the yeast in warm water, show your kids how a thermometer works, and ask if they can tell you how warm the mixture is.
Credit: Photography: Randy Mayor; Styling: Lydia DeGaris-Pursell
Test that new-found dexterity and coordination by letting your child open the cans for this soup. Prepare and chop all the ingredients ahead of time and let her follow the recipe while you watch from nearby. Kids this age are often involved in science projects with school, so following a recipe feels more like a neat game than cooking dinner. Make sure you're on hand to chop, blend, and supervise at the stove.
If you're interested in testing your child's legs in the kitchen, let them follow this recipe start to finish while you supervise. They'll enjoy learning what ingredients go into their family favorites, and it's a great time to teach them basic kitchen principles about food safety. Fill the 45-minute cook time with a little multitasking–ask him what else should go on the plate to make a balanced meal, then let him instruct you in making a side.