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Cooking With Your Children

Why it's so important to spend time in the kitchen with your children -- and how you can get started

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1. Be caring and supportive of your child.
Parents get many opportunities to compliment and support their children while they're in the kitchen together. How important is this? Parental praise, affection, acceptance, and family bonding -- as perceived by children -- are all associated with a reduced risk of substance use. An excellent relationship with either parent is associated with a reduced risk for substance use than the average teen.

2. Open the lines of communication.
Kids having fun in the kitchen, elbow to elbow, are likely to interact with each other and with their parents. Cooking together gives parents and children time together to talk and share thoughts and stories. "Communication doesn't start when your child is 17," says Ross Brower, MD, deputy medical director for the Weill Cornell Medical Center. "It should start when your child is 3."

3. Eat dinner together regularly.
Involving your kids in the kitchen is a big stepping-stone to getting them to appreciate family meals. Because of challenging work, school, and sports schedules, many families struggle to sit down to even one daily meal together. But you can start by maximizing weekend opportunities to eat together.

How to Start Cooking with Your Kids

One good place to start is the first meal of the day: breakfast. Evidence suggests that eating breakfast improves memory and test grades (some elements of a healthy breakfast are high-fiber and nutrient-rich whole grains, fruits, and dairy products).

Pressed for time in the morning? Start cooking breakfast with your kids on the weekends, during the summer months, or on school holidays.

For many of us, dinner offers the best opportunity for cooking with our children day in and day out. One tip: Set out some washed and sliced fruits and vegetables to munch on, and nutritious or zero-calorie beverages to sip while you're cooking. This means the children (and you!) will be less likely to nibble on the dinner ingredients while you work.

And just how old do your children have to be to help out in the kitchen? Many start to express an interest in cooking at around 2 or 3, and that's not too early to start.

Especially for younger children, it's important to set your kids up for success. Structure the work area so they are less likely to spill. You can also have them do their measuring with a jellyroll pan underneath to catch any spills.

Remember that the easier dishes are to prepare, the more likely the kids will try making them again. Start with things like breads, muffins, pasta, smoothies, and fun sandwiches. Slowly work your way up to the fancier stuff. Here are some age-appropriate cooking skills your children should be able to master.

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