Getting your kids involved in preparing dinner is a great way to help teach them responsibility, nutrition, and exploration of new dishes. They seem to be more interested in something when they've played a part in its creation. Here are some easy meal ideas they can help you prepare.

1. Lasagna

Whatever your favorite lasagna recipe is, it's a shoe-in for best kid-helper menu item. It always tastes great, your child can help layer all the yummy ingredients, and there's no need to cook anything before hand if you do a vegetarian style lasagna. BONUS: If you have a pasta maker, you can have your child roll out the noodles as well. Although this is time consuming, it's a fun activity. You can do it earlier in the day and have it ready to go.

2. Burritos and Nachos

Have them shred cheese and microwave tortillas to warm them. They can sprinkle the cheese all over the chips before you bake them. Also, you can have them set the table with all the condiments and have a burrito bar for dinner.

3. Baked Potato Soup

Your child can help scrub or peel the potatoes, shred the cheese and add the spices.

4. Pizza

Have them help you make the dough, sprinkle the cheese, and add the pepperoni. (Mix in spinach and pureed squash to make the sauce healthier. Also, use whole wheat and add flaxseed to the dough to add fiber and omega-3s.

5. Chicken Wraps

Use diced, cooked chicken breast, lettuce and tomatoes. Have them build the wraps with spinach tortillas that have been spread with ranch and barbecue sauce. This is a family favorite.

6. Stone Soup

Read the story of Stone Soup to your child. After you've piqued her interest, explain that you'd like her help to make Stone soup. She'll be thrilled.

Ingredients

  • 1 large, very clean stone (have fun exploring outside until you find the tastiest looking one)
  • 4 cups water
  • 3 large carrots
  • 3 potatoes
  • 2 onions
  • 1 can tomatoes
  • 1 can corn
  • 1 can peas
  • 4 t beef/chicken/vegetable bouillon
  • dash of salt

Method

Heat water in a large pot. Add the stone. Peel and cut up carrots, potatoes, onions and celery. Boil ingredients until soft. Add tomatoes, corn, peas and bouillon. Add salt and boil for 10 minutes. Remove the stone. Serve with crackers. And a smile.

Tricks to Make Cooking Safe and Easy for Kids

  1. Always handle the hot stuff, i.e., baking trays, pans, boiling water, sautéed food, etc.

  2. Use a microwave when you can to avoid boiling water or hot surface mishaps.

  3. Use a food processor with the safety plastic pusher to chop vegetables. Your child will get a kick out of watching the veggies chop so quickly and being so useful.

  4. Teach your child how to peel, slowly at first. Remember that blade is sharp.

  5. Keep the recipes simple. You'll be less stressed if you have something that is fool proof to prepare.

  6. Remember, presentation doesn't matter as much as having fun.

  7. Teach them to clean as you go to help keep the mess down. Give them a paper towel and let them go to town on the counters while you wait for the dinner. Or you can have them load the dishwasher. Either way, it's another lesson in chores.

  8. Making faces or animal ears in your presentation gets you bonus points.

Getting kids involved with cooking is a great way to incorporate family time with dinner preparation. It will take you a little longer, and the measurements may be off a bit, but your child will remember these times for a lifetime. Besides, you may be training up the next Rachael Ray or Emeril. Bam!

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