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When you’ve got a baby on your hip, laundry piling up and sunshine beckoning you outside, cooking for the family can seem like a daunting chore. It doesn’t have to be.

Why not turn meal prep into a family activity? It can be an opportunity to teach your children about food and nutrition, while also getting assistance in the kitchen. You may find it to be a fun family bonding activity, too.

It’s in a child’s nature to want to help. Health Canada offers a guide to what kids of each age group are capable of as your sous chef. It ranges from washing fruits and vegetables (ages 2-3) to being in charge of an entire family meal (pre-teen and teen). As you prep and cook together, you’ll pass on valuable skills they can use their whole lives. We’ll help get you started with these kid-friendly food recipes.

Speedy salsa chicken quesadillaSpeedy Salsa Chicken Quesadilla

This recipe from Kraft Canada makes a light summer lunch or supper that a pre-teen can help make. Combine salsa by Great Value, Kraft Miracle Whip’s Original Spread and chili powder, then layer the sliced chicken breast and cheese between two tortillas. Cook in a skillet for 5 minutes. Makes 4 servings.

Preparing a variety of foods provides the opportunity to teach kids about proper handwashing. The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends washing hands with soap and water for at least 15 seconds. That’s about the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday to You!” Have them wash at the start, after handling any food, and again when they’re finished. Rinse well and dry thoroughly.

Macaroni and cheese and cauliflower bakeMacaroni Cheese and Cauliflower Bake

We tend to want to make casseroles in fall and winter, but mac and cheese knows no season! Get the wee ones to line up ingredients, wash the cauliflower and supervise making this dish from Gordon Ramsay. He uses three kinds of cheese. I promise I won’t tell if you only use one!

You may also like: Easy Healthy Meals

Do you have a child who’s grossed out by touching vegetables? Do they recoil when they see raw meat? If handling food truly isn’t for them, they can help in other ways. They could help make the grocery list. Or, you could take the dinnerware out of the cupboard and have them help with table-setting. When everyone’s finished eating dinner, pour dish soap into the sink and have them help with washing the cookware. The older kids can help load the dishwasher. Everyone has a role to play in making mealtime a family activity.

Basic omeletteBasic Omelette

How about breakfast for a family dinner? Build on a basic omelette recipe from Get Cracking with vegetables, meat and cheese. Add toast or a bagel and breakfast—we mean dinner—is served. Psst! Don’t forget the Heinz Tomato Ketchup! Eggs taste better with ketchup, right?

The Canadian Paediatric Society advises parents to talk to children about food safety. Subjects include keeping cooked and raw foods separate, properly cooking and storing food and, sadly, not eating foods containing raw eggs, such as raw cookie dough. Safety always comes first and waiting for cookies to bake helps teach patience.

Grilled corn on the cobGrilled Corn on the Cob

When the king of the grill is on duty at the BBQ, kids can help by preparing a side dish of corn on the cob. Little ones will need some assistance husking the corn. After washing, it’s easy-peasy to follow this AllRecipes can’t-miss method: brush on butter, shake on salt and wrap tightly in Alcan’s Ultimate Grilling Foil. BBQ for about 30 minutes, or until tender.

An overwhelming 90% of visitors to BabyCenter who voted on a poll about kids and mealtimes said their children are at least occasionally involved in cooking. Kids will naturally ask questions about where foods come from and why they can’t run the hand mixer on high! Canada’s Food Guide also credits meal prep with helping build a child’s self-confidence and encouraging picky eaters to taste the food they’ve helped prepare.

Quick and easy pita pizzasQuick and Easy Pita Pizzas

These pita pizzas call for just three ingredients: pitas, tomato sauce and cheese. You can add whatever you like! This Gimme Delicious recipe uses marinara sauce, whole wheat pitas and Italian style blend cheese. Bake in a toaster oven until bubbly. Cut in quarters. Enjoy!

If your children act up at mealtimes, Vancouver-based child behaviour and discipline specialist Julie Romanowski explains in an article on Miss Behaviour that getting them involved in making meals can help improve their conduct. So can creating a plan and sticking to it, like one where everybody eats at the same time and no one can throw food—not even daddy!

Doughnut applesDoughnut Apples

They’re sweet, and they look like doughnuts. However, they’re made with fresh apple slices. This super-simple recipe from Delish makes for a fun after-school snack or refreshing dessert. Top each apple slice with cream cheese and honey (or melted chocolate) and decorate with sprinkles. I think I’m going to make a batch with Cake Mate Sugar Sprinkles.

Life can get a little messier when kids are in the kitchen, but that’s how they’ll learn about cleaning up. If they lose interest, put them on a new task. An article by SickKids Staff on About Kids Health states that it helps a child eat better if they can include a favourite food in family dinner ideas. And, it helps you when they join in and learn important skills they’ll always need.

Now, let’s eat!

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Lisa is the author of five books and counting. She’s also a versatile voice-artist and the former morning co-anchor at 680 News. She loves coffee, cheese and Twizzlers, but not at the same time. She believes the best part about working from home is talking on the phone to people who have no idea that she's still wearing her pajamas. Animal lover Lisa lives in Wallaceburg (about an hour west of London) with her husband and their senior rescue cat Miss Sugar. You can follow Lisa on Twitter @lisambrandt.