If you’re trying to lose weight or maintain weight loss, one of the most important things you can do is cook most of your meals at home. Home-cooked meals generally contain more nutrients and fewer unhealthy ingredients that might derail your healthy weight loss plan. Plus, there’s an added benefit to cooking at home: you can include your kids in the process.

Cooking with your kids is a great way to spend time together as a family, and helps you share your love of healthier and tasty foods. Kids are more likely to eat and enjoy a wide range of foods when they help to prepare them, and learning how to plan, shop for, and cook meals is an important life skill. Reading recipes and measuring ingredients also reinforces the reading and math skills they’re learning in school.

It may seem daunting to add kids to the cooking mix, but it doesn’t have to be. Start slow, start small, and have fun! Here are a few tips to help make cooking with kids a recipe for fun for everyone:

Kids – Consider Ages & Maturity Levels

Before your first kitchen session with your kids, think about their ages, maturity, and likes and dislikes. You want their first experiences in the kitchen to be safe and fun.

Choose tasks for your kids that are age and developmentally appropriate. For example, even toddlers can rinse veggies, while older kids can measure ingredients, grate cheese, open cans using a can opener, and perform other duties. As they get older and more skilled, they’ll be capable of more complex tasks—maybe even cooking an entire dinner for the family now and then!

Let Them Pick!

Let your kids choose a recipe from a few healthy ones you’ve pre-selected. Younger cooks will be happier with simpler recipes that use only a few ingredients.

Try Cooking on the Weekend

Choose your family cooking time wisely. A relaxed weekend afternoon is probably a better time to introduce your kids to cooking than when you’re trying to get dinner on the table after a long day at work and school. Younger children will also do better if they’re not too tired or hungry. (You probably will, too!)

Keep it Light

Maintain a light mood, and don’t get upset if an oops occurs. Learning to cook is a process and mistakes will happen.

Encourage Conversation

Talk about what makes a food or a meal good for you in kid-friendly language. You might talk about “eating a rainbow” of fruits and vegetables, for example. Encourage them to ask questions, and if you don’t know the answers, look them up together.

Include Clean-Up Tasks

Remember to include clean-up tasks—washing, drying, and putting away dishes, putting away ingredients, and cleaning up their own work areas. These are all a part of learning to cook.

Don’t’ Leave Children Unsupervised

Don’t leave children unsupervised in the kitchen, and keep them a safe distance from sharp knives and hot surfaces until you’ve determined they’re mature enough to handle them. You may even want to set up a kid-safe cooking station where your little chefs can stir and pour safely to their hearts’ content.

Some Won’t Enjoy It – That’s OK

Some kids just won’t enjoy cooking, and that’s OK too. Don’t force them. You can still include them in the mealtime process by having them set and clear the table, wash produce, or taste test recipes as you cook.

Pursue Your Shared Passion

If you find you and your kids do love cooking together you can take it farther by signing up for a parent/child cooking class. Some civic organizations as well as local businesses offer such classes—check online or in the telephone book for a class near you.

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