* Establish good habits
Set good habits for your children by teaching them to wash their hands before, during and after cooking. Kid-friendly tools, like a small step stool or high-tech faucet, can help make reinforcing these habits even easier. Let your little sous-chefs know that they should wash their hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds, by helping them count or singing the "Happy Birthday" song twice.
Remember to set a good example by washing your own hands before and after eating and during the cooking process, as needed.
* Different stages for different ages
Understanding which tasks your child is capable of doing is important. Children under 5 years old enjoy observing how recipes are compiled and can help out with small tasks like setting the table, while school-age children can strengthen their math skills as they help combine ingredients for recipes and practice cooking basics, like cracking an egg.
This stage is a great time to introduce the importance of choosing nutritious ingredients for everyday cooking, which can help lay the groundwork for a healthy lifestyle. Tap teenagers for help by encouraging them to choose the menu or explore new and exciting cuisines.
Holiday baking is especially fun with children, as even the youngest can add sprinkles to cookies and they love to share the goodies with others. With older children you might want to plan, bake and build a gingerbread house.
* Timing is everything
Avoiding a tight schedule is important. Instead of involving children in the dinner rush, enlist their help on a weekend afternoon when there is plenty of time for questions, experiments or careful demonstrations. Choose a time when everyone is well-rested and not easily frustrated.
Plan ahead when deciding what recipe you will cook together. For younger kids, consider starting with a simple dish that has fewer than five ingredients like a fruit salad or an easy muffin recipe. A pizza assembly line allows children to show their creativity by choosing their own mini-crusts, sauces, cheese and toppings.
Remember your kitchen creations when planning gifts from your family. If the children have helped create them, they will take special pride in giving them as presents, too.
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