Written by Julia Halewicz
A day off from school can be a blessing or curse depending on when you catch a mom. After friends have gone home and the kids have played with all their toys, it takes some creative thinking to keep everyone happy, which is usually just about when dinner needs to be made.
Instead of cooking like you're in a timed sprint, use the extra time with your kids to get them involved while you enjoy a little help with all that mixing and chopping. You'll be surprised by how in tune kids are with kitchen dynamics, and how eager they are to play a role in making family meals. While they're at it, have them make tomorrow's lunch!
An added bonus: Pediatricians say kids who cook their own food are more apt to try different flavors and eat well-balanced diets.
Here are eight age-appropriate tips and recipe ideas to get kids involved in the kitchen (but remember, you know your child best and what he or she can handle):
Pre-Schoolers: Kids in pre-school want to be big, but their motor skills are still a work in progress. Safe activities like washing vegetables, tearing lettuce leaves, mashing soft foods, sprinkling flour, whisking up mixes and even kneading dough are all appropriate for this group.
Why not have your pre-schooler mash up tonight's potatoes after they've cooled? Or let him mix the dry ingredients for homemade pancake mix—he'll love contributing and you'll love having Saturday's breakfast pre-made.5 to 7-Year Olds: These kids know they're big and want to perfect rather than prove their abilities. Appropriate tasks include properly whisking eggs, grating hard cheeses, and peeling and cutting soft fruit with a children's knife. This age group also can grease and flour a cake pan, help measure ingredients and set the table. Rolling out pastry or pizza dough with some help, using cookie cutters to make shapes and decorating cakes and cupcakes are also possibilities.
Why not ... let your 5-to-7-year old try her hand at making mini quiches? She can help mix, knead and roll out the pastry crust, whisk the egg and milk, and add the vegetables.8 to 12-Year Olds: Known as tweens, this group is gaining maturity and has all the necessary tools to measure internal meat temperatures and manage timers. With your supervision, some chopping is appropriate, as is gathering ingredients and heating up food in an oven or microwave. Your tween may be able to use can openers and peelers, too.
Why not ... allow your tween to prepare his own snacks and some very basic dishes like salad or sandwiches, or heat up soup?13 and Older: Once a child hits the teens, he or she is ready to be master of the kitchen domain. With the ability to multiply and divide, these kids can adjust recipes to the family's needs. Menu planning and grocery shopping also are within their capabilities. At this age, kids may even be able to make up their own recipes. Some will have command over all the kitchen appliances as well.
Why not let your teen fry a steak in a pan and make rice? Maybe best of all—teens understand the importance of hygiene (like washing your hands and surfaces after handling raw chicken) and can clean up after themselves!
Some days, you can't have enough cooks in the kitchen.
TELL US: How do you get your kids involved in the kitchen? Leave a comment below.
This article is part of Mix It Up, an editorial series created in collaboration with AOL's Kitchen Daily and Huffington Post. It is dedicated to making the lives of mothers easier through articles, videos and slideshows focused on simple and creative solutions to everyday challenges. From healthy recipes to exciting ideas for a more balanced lifestyle, this section aims to become a resource for moms everywhere.