yogurt bitesWhen I was younger, I was absolutely enthralled by watching my parents cook. Whether it was my mom cooking chicken on a Tuesday night or my dad frying up potatoes for a lazy Sunday morning brunch, I was constantly underfoot, asking to help. I even went through a stint where I would ask to make my own “recipes,” where my mom would watch patiently as I dumped a questionable mix of flour, water, chocolate chips, and various spices into a baking dish to be placed in the oven. My dad, not one to crush my creative culinary spirit, would then choke down a “test” piece, proclaim its deliciousness, and wrap up a big piece to “take to work with him” on his night shift.

If you’re not one for letting your kids run wild through your cupboards (as my parents would advise; they eventually had to cut me off due to the terrible cooking smells and wasted food from the “recipes” I concocted) there are several ways to involve your kids that can be productive, enjoyable, hassle-free and won’t end in a kitchen meltdown.

The easiest way to ensure that your kids will be able to help you and that it will be enjoyable for everyone involved is to pick a simple recipe. The fewer the steps, ingredients, and resources needed, the better. A recipe like one for these Frozen Yogurt Bites is perfect – just three ingredients, no heat, and four steps, where kids can do something simple like sprinkle granola and fresh fruit. Similarly, Frozen Yogurt Bark is simple to set up, and kids can drop dried fruit to their hearts’ content without much guidance from you!

Even recipes that are a little more complicated can be fun to prepare with kids if you pick a recipe they’re interested in. While your kids might not be into the Chicken Marsala you’re whipping up for dinner, something like Greek Yogurt Mac n Cheese is more likely to hold their attention because they know it’s something they like! Even if they’re not content to watch, they will be happy to dump in premeasured ingredients like cheese and yogurt under your supervision. These moments are great, too, because they feel good helping and you can take the time to teach them about kitchen safety, like being careful around hot pans and stoves.

Another idea is to prep a lengthier recipe in advance so all that’s left is a kid-friendly step. These Whole Wheat Monster Cookie Dough Bites can be combined and chilled in advance so all that’s left to do is roll out balls (and sneak a couple taste tests!)

Recipes with unique steps show kids that cooking can be lots of fun – which is great as they get older and can be tasked with more kitchen responsibilities. Oatmeal Banana Coconut Cookies are delicious and call for mashed banana, which children can accomplish with a masher or with their hands!

Finally, cooking with kids can be very successful if you make the cooking steps fun. This Yogurt Covered Pretzel recipe is simple to prep, and after you’ve made the yogurt dip, you can have your kids attempt to “fish” the pretzels out of the dip with a fork or toothpick.

There you have it. With a little foresight, creativity, and patience, your kids can become junior kitchen pros in no time, and on track to develop an affinity for cooking that lasts far beyond their adventures in your family kitchen.