Most parents love activities they can do with their kids.  Doing something with your child is a terrific way to bond, entertain and teach all at the same time. 

One of the most popular places for parent-child activity is the kitchen—the kitchen is a place where many parents spend a lot of time, so they often end up dragging a stool over to the counter for their little “helpers.”   But if you’ve ever tried to cook with kids, you probably know that making a meal tends to take longer, be louder and be a lot less messy than when adults make meals by themselves.

Instead of sending your child off to the TV room the next time it’s time to cook dinner, though, take a couple steps to make cooking with kids a less stressful ordeal. 

There are tons of benefits to having kids help in the kitchen, from becoming less picky eaters to learning basic kitchen skills, so follow these guidelines to make dinner prep a hassle-free, enjoyable bonding process: 

  • Let Them Choose

Kids have notoriously short attention spans, so to keep them involved in a task they need to be invested in it in some capacity.  A great way to make kids stay involved in the cooking process is to let them choose what recipe to make for dinner.  Feeling in charge of decision making will make kids much more likely to stick out the entire meal preparation and pay more attention to their roles.  Plus, kids who like what they are cooking are much more likely to eat well at mealtime!    

  • Provide Simple Tasks

While you do the chopping, slicing and stove-handling, find easy jobs that are safe and fun to occupy small children.  Rolling out dough, pounding meat or mixing together dry ingredients are all activities that don’t require much work or skill, so they are perfect for kids to do while you focus on the more complex tasks.  No matter how simple a task may seem to you, however, keep in mind that supervision is crucial in any kitchen task in which kids participate.  Another thing to keep in mind—easy tasks for you may seem much more difficult for inexperienced little chefs, so try not to rush kids in their work and be as patient as possible.  

  • Take Breaks

It’s generally unreasonable to expect kids to stay focused through cooking a four hour meal, or even a half hour one, so let them take breaks after they complete each job you assign them.  Instead of sitting them in a chair the entire time they’re in the kitchen, send them to the cupboard to grab ingredients, to the drawers to look for utensils and to different spots on the counter to do different cooking tasks.  Kids will feel more engaged in cooking if they feel like they are doing different things and don’t get bored with just one task. 

  • Make Cleanup a Breeze

The combination of cooking and kids can only equal one thing: a mess.  While some degree of a mess is essentially unavoidable, there are ways to reduce the amount of flour and butter splatters all over your kitchen.  One of the easiest baking tips for a quick cleanup is to spray knives, measuring cups and blenders with cooking spray before you add ingredients, especially if they’re sticky ones.  The spray will cause less food to stay on the utensils after you use them, making it less likely that your counters and walls will be covered in food as well.  Also, encourage your kids to clean as they go—taking frequent trips to the sink will make cleaning up your kitchen later on much less intimidating.  

Follow these simple tips and the next time your child runs into the kitchen, spatula in hand, you’ll feel ready and able to handle the dinner craze.  Cooking should be fun, and cooking stress-free with your child will make it an even more enjoyable experience.  

Meredith Kimelblatt writes on behalf of PAM.  For meals made with or without children, PAM cooking spray makes everything easier.  For more family-friendly baking tips and recipes, visit www.pamcookingspray.com.