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Little Helpers

Want your kids to love cooking? These four experts have the recipes for success.

By Allison Ellis / September 2, 2013

Little Helpers
Little Helpers

With farmers' markets, cooking shows and a zillion easy recipes out there, getting your kids to share your culinary passion seems like it should be a no-brainer. And yet, when it comes to coaxing the kiddos, you can't force-feed the issue. So where do you start? We asked the experts. 

Bring 'em along  
"If they cook it, they will eat it," says Julie Negrin, nutritionist, cooking instructor and author of Easy Meals to Cook with Kids. This means engaging the kids every step of the way, including planning, shopping, prepping, plating and serving. Let them pick out foods at the grocery store or go through cookbooks and point out dishes they'd like to eat. "Not only will they be invested in what's for dinner," she says, "but they'll also understand the value of what it takes to put food on the table."  

No task too small
Kneading, stirring, pressing the "on" button on the timer: these are jobs even the littlest helpers can handle. Debbie Koenig, food writer, mom and author of the cookbook Parents Need to Eat Too, bought a set of kid-size knives (made of food-grade nylon) for her son when he was just two years old. He's been rough-chopping things like mushrooms and zucchini ever since. Other kitchen jobs little kids love: salad spinning, lemon squeezing and shaking spices over everything.

Embrace the mess
Anticipating spills, sticky fingers and mishaps is key. Charity Curley Matthews, mom of three and owner of the blog, recommends keeping mini aprons, stools, wet paper towels or washcloths on hand and to expect that, while kids are capable, mistakes will happen. "Kids will only enjoy cooking if they have a nice experience," she cautions, "so if you lose it when someone spills flour all over the counter, that's the impression they'll have." Above all, make sure everyone knows that the kids helped cook when it's time to eat. "Little faces really do light up when a table full of people praises their work," Matthews adds.

Make it fun
Catherine McCord, author and owner of the popular kid-friendly recipe site, offers these clever ways to up the fun factor: Give kids an ice-cream scooper to dole out muffin batter. Have them assemble lasagna in mini muffin tins for bite-size portions. Let them create a kid crudité tray and dip their veggies in maple syrup. Give them the means to make up their own smoothie recipes. The next thing you know, your kids will not only be in love with cooking, they'll also be sharing that love with you.

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What's your recipe for fun with kids in the kitchen? Tell us in the comments below. 

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