Easy Ways to Get Cooking Together Tonight

Whether you work in the office, at home, on a plane, in a field, or anywhere else in the known universe, if you’re a parent, then by definition you are beyond busy. You’re simply not going to make pumpkin buckwheat pancakes, tofu salad rolls, fresh blackberry jam, coq au vin, or lamb shank tagine for every meal. And that’s okay. Cooking with kids doesn’t always have to be complicated, take a lot of time, or get an A+ for nutrition. Here are 10 super simple ways to just do it.

1. Remember that small things are mighty.
You stretch the store-bought pizza dough, but the kids add their own toppings. You make the buttermilk biscuit dough, they roll it out. You make the pancake batter, they sprinkle on the blueberries. You handle the peanut butter, they’re all about the jam. You get it.

2. Build a breakfast bowl.You don’t actually have to “cook.” First, get out any of the following: yogurt, milk, chopped fresh fruit, dried fruit, toasted nuts and seeds, nut butter, granola, cereal, coconut flakes, jam, honey, maple syrup, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Next, invite everyone to build their own breakfast adventure. Note: Parents should eat breakfast, too.

3. Crack eggs. Cracking an egg is a childhood culinary rite of passage—and doing it successfully makes kids really, really proud. They’re typically capable around age 4 or 5, but feel free to give it a go earlier—eggs are cheap and you do have, like, 12 of them. If you’re concerned about shell shards ending up in your food, have your kid crack them into a separate bowl before adding to your recipe. Step 2: Learn how to make perfect scrambled eggs together.

4. Put the kid on veg prep. Scrub and rinse veggies, trim beans, shuck corn, tear lettuce, etc. It’s necessary, you’re together, and it just might make your child enjoy vegetables more—it counts.

5. Let them press your buttons.
Younger kids love pressing buttons (or pulling levers or turning knobs) on blenders, food processors, stand mixers, ovens, microwaves, timers, rice cookers, crock pots, instant pot, ice cream makers—really just any device you’re using. And, of course, pressing the buttons on the blender her “own self” will make that kale smoothie way more delicious.

6. Give them some ownership. If you have an older child, task him with preparing a part of the meal (salad, pasta, sweet potato fries, meatballs, etc.) solo and however he likes. You’ll be in the kitchen together, but he’ll also gain confidence and independence—only offer advice if he asks. Bonus: With two cooks in the kitchen, dinner will be ready sooner!

7. Use a slow cooker.
Have your little sous help you prep the ingredients and then just dump everything in the pot. The resulting meal can be quite spectacular, but the machine did the actual cooking while you guys were at school, work, summer camp, or just having an awesome time at the park.

8. Make boxed mac and cheese.
We all have nights when there’s no time, nothing in the fridge, and everyone’s hungry. We’re pumped to offer some great Kitchen MacGyver tips for making ah-mazing, healthy meals out of whateva-you-got in our upcoming newsletters, but we also say there’s no shame in simply getting dinner on the table. The point is that you do it together. When making boxed mac, kids can learn about kitchen safety (like working with a hot pot on the stove), measuring (hello, math!), the art of mixing (without producing cheese-sauce wall art), and how to know when something is “done,” be it the perfect al dente noodle or a thick, creamy, not-grainy sauce.

Hot Tip: Keep things interesting by experimenting with tasty ways to elevate your mac: Sub cream cheese for the butter and add diced artichokes and spinach; stir in chopped kale and uncured bacon, top with grated Parmesan and panko, and then broil; mix it with black beans, roasted corn, cherry tomatoes, and cotija; add peas and goat cheese and top with a fried egg; combine with wild mushrooms, fresh figs, and chunks of brie; and so on.

9. Make simple syrup.
The name says it all. Have your child pour equal parts water and sugar (say, 1 cup each) in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until the sugar is dissolved—the syrup will be completely clear. Immediately remove from heat and let cool to room temp. Store in an über clean jar, as wayward particles may cause crystals to form. Among other things (cocktails!), you can use the syrup to:

10. Make fresh lemonade.
Combine that simple syrup you just made with 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice and 4 cups cold water, stir, and adjust flavor to taste. (And yes, this counts as cooking with kids if you get them to help adjust those flavors.) Add ice. After you’ve made the ’ade together, send the kiddos outside to hawk it at their own lemonade stand. Cheers!

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