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One of the best ways for me to kill two birds with one stone is by having my kids help in the kitchen. This way I can get things done that need done, and spend (hopefully fun) time with my kids. Once school starts, the daily time I can spend with my daughter is limited to a few hours after school but before bedtime – right in the middle of which I need to cook supper.

Here are five tips for cooking with kids:

1. Don’t do it when you’re pressed for time. Cooking with young kids (mine are 5 and 6, but I’ve been doing it since they were about three) will not be faster than cooking alone. It will not save you time and effort.

2.  Find tasks they can master. My kids are champion stirrers and graters. They love mashing bananas for banana bread. It took a little longer, but they can also crack eggs now with a minimum of mess. (Have them crack eggs into a separate bowl.  It’s easier to get the bits of shell out.) Sometimes, they “help” by standing on a stool by the stove and telling me when the water starts boiling.

2.  Collect recipes that feature child-friendly preparation. I have a section in my recipe box devoted to these recipes. I also have a cookbook (The Mickey Mouse and Friends Cookbook, which I had as a kid and bought secondhand online) geared towards kids. A lot of these recipes contain hot dogs. I let the kids cut up the hot dogs with a butter knife. One recipe is no more complicated than “Cut up some hot dogs, open a can of soup, mix, and heat.” They aren’t my favorite meals, but my kids feel very important when they get to use a knife.

3.  Messes will happen. Get some child size aprons. I made mine from this Montessori Child’s Apron pattern. It’s quick and easy to sew, unisex (but customizable with fabric featuring whatever your kid is into), and best of all, they can put it on without help.
4.  Lighten up. I did not realize what a perfectionist I was until I started trying to micromanage how my kids put toppings on things. Yes, cookies and pizza will look better if the sprinkles or pepperonis are equally distributed over the surface, but really, they’ll taste the same. No one cares (but me, apparently.)