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Mom cooks with her kids
Family Health

Building Healthy Habits: 4 Tips for Cooking With Kids

Cooking with kids can be a fun bonding experience that builds positive lifelong habits -- after all, learning to cook is one of the best ways to kick-start healthy eating. Cooking is more than a practical skill; it helps make kids mindful about the process of preparing and eating food.

How can you get your child started? It's not as tough as you might think. Most kids will love an opportunity to get a little messy while taking on an "adult" task. Here are four tips to help you get yours engaged in the kitchen.

1. Start Easy and Enjoyable

When you're teaching children to cook, keep the first recipes simple and fun. Look for foods that they enjoy eating and might eventually want to make for themselves. Teach them to fry an egg, make macaroni and cheese, whip up healthy nachos with baked chips and diced tomatoes, or prepare celery sticks and veggies with healthy dips. Alternate between treats and wholesome fare to keep them interested while instilling good nutrition habits.

2. Prepare for Messes

Cooking is messy, and kids are too, so be prepared: Your kitchen won't stay spotless. Have your budding chefs tie their hair back and wear an apron. Make sure they're wearing clothes that you don't mind getting dirty. Most importantly, have fun! Be cautious about safety, but don't worry about the mess too much -- it's all part of the process.

3. Teach Basic Hygiene

Your kids should understand how to keep things hygienic and sanitary in the kitchen. Teach them to wash their hands before and after handling food. If they take a sip of a sauce to test the flavor, make sure it's not too hot, and remind them to put the spoon away and not to reuse it. Make sure every kitchen session ends with a cleaning lesson so that tidying up becomes a habit, too.

4. Progress Slowly but Surely

After your kids have gotten familiar with the kitchen and easier concepts like measuring, move on to simple, short recipes. For example, you can make a cake from a boxed mix that calls for just three or four ingredients. You can even swap out some ingredients for healthier alternatives, such as subbing applesauce for oil. When your child is ready, designate them as your assistant chef when you're making a more complicated meal. For example, if you're making spaghetti for dinner, have them stir the sauce as it cooks or help you pick and prepare the side dishes. Or let them choose the toppings for a homemade pizza and be in charge of measuring dry ingredients and cracking eggs.

After this, let them pick the main dish once a week and help prepare it. Use this as an opportunity to teach them healthy eating habits, letting them know which suggestions for main and side dishes are good for their bodies and why. You can also teach them budgeting skills by giving them a maximum amount they can spend when they're helping you plan the meal.

Teaching your kids healthy habits can be easy if you make the process fun, and they'll be more excited about cooking if they know they're doing something important for the family. Give your kids a place in the kitchen, let them help make decisions, and thank them for all their hard work.

Do you have any tips for cooking with kids? Let us know on Twitter.

Posted in Family Health

Author and publicist, featured by Business Week, Livestrong, The Nest, and many other publications. Her interests include Science, technology, business, pets, women's lifestyle and Christian living.

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*This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute health care advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or physician before making health care decisions.