Bringing the kiddos into the kitchen is a great way to spend quality time together, and an opportunity to teach them a lifelong skill. Now, it may sound like things could get pretty messy … and they could. But, I promise it’ll be totally worth it.

The thing is, kids who help out with cooking and shopping for food tend to end up as healthier, more adventurous eaters. Plus, you’re packing in more quality time together when you’d likely be separated — you at the stove, them at the TV waiting for dinner.

Cooking together is a great creative outlet for you to share with your kids and once they get the hang of things, you’ll have a sous chef to work with every night. The most important thing to remember is that kids learn through play, so make it fun.

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Here are 10 ideas to invite your kids into the kitchen to play with (and learn about!) their food:

1.Take them grocery shopping. Talk to your kids about different ingredients you select and what dishes you’re buying them for. If you can, visit a farm or farmer’s market to pick out seasonal produce and show the kids where food really comes from. Let them choose an ingredient or two they want to try out, then find a recipe you can make together using whatever they get.

2.Show them how to be safe in the kitchen. Point out dangers like the flame on the stove, pots and pans with hot food in them, and teach them to use hot mitts to touch hot things. Demonstrate how dangerous sharp knives and tools can be, and make sure they know exactly what can and can’t touch. Explain basic kitchen hygiene like washing your hands, keeping your hair pulled back and avoiding the double-dip so no one spreads any germs around.

3.Give the kitchen a kid-friendly makeover. Bring in a slip-proof step stool or create a low work table where kids can easily get to the task at hand. Stock up on some just-my-size kitchen tools and mixing bowls with no-slide rubber bottoms. Before starting, cover their work service with a disposable tablecloth for easy cleanup. Extra dishtowels and non-skid cutting boards are also a good idea.

4.Manage your expectations. This onemay be the hardest for you, but realize that cooking with kids is going to take a little longer than doing it alone. Plus, like I mentioned, someone’s most likely going to make a mess. Don’t let yourself stress about it. Get into your zen place and let the process take the time it takes. Enjoy bonding with the kids, and don’t worry if dinner’s a little late or doesn’t taste as good as it could. Your Jr. Chef will be proud of the accomplishment, and you’ll both have a fun memory to share.

5.Cook using recipes. Although you may be the kind of cook who wings every dish, teach the kids how a recipe is laid out and how to follow the instructions. You can even get them their own cookbooks so they can choose their own dishes to try out. With smaller kids, flip through the pages storybook style and let them choose recipes by the picture.

6.Play “match the measurement” together. Create a matching game where your kids read an ingredient on the recipe then choose the right tool to measure out the correct amount. Play every time you cook together, and they’ll be total pros before you know it. “You want me to get you a quarter cup of milk and 1/8 teaspoon of sugar, mom? No problem!”

7.Put your mess in its place. In the industry it’s known as mis en place; a French term for prepping all the ingredients you need for a recipe before you start cooking. Show kids how to put pre-measured items into separate small bowls to have everything at the ready once you get going. (This is a great tip that works for grown ups, too!)

8.Let ’em do it on their own. Show your kids how to do tasks like cracking eggs or tossing salads, then give them a chance to try it themselves. Sure you might end up crunching on a bit of shell or cleaning up stray arugula from the floor, but how else will they learn to do it right? Depending on their age, interest and ability, feel free to let them whisk the batter, wash the veggies, stir the soup and even chop those semi-soft ingredients with a kid-friendly knife. Think challenging, but age appropriate at the same time.

9.Bring out the kitchen toys. All kids love toys, so try to incorporate fun kitchen tools like rolling pins, cookie cutters, or blenders whenever possible. Introduce older kids to the more complicated gadgets like stand mixers, pasta machines, and ice cream mixers when they’re ready.

10.Teach them to develop their own dishes. Once the kids get comfortable in the kitchen, give them some creative space to try different ingredients they’re interested in. Allow them to experiment with different flavor combinations and even cook the dishes they make up. You can even host a “tasting” where they show off their masterpiece to the rest of the family.

Remember! The key here is to enjoy your time with your kids. The having more helpful hands in the kitchen? Well, that’s just the gravy on top.

Share your stories of cooking with the kids below. Be sure to let me know what other ways you come up with to invite them into the kitchen!

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