Rachael Ray is teaming with Michelle Obama in her campaign against childhood obesity. She “is helping create menus for 1,600 city public schools where students also are taught cooking and nutrition.” She has also said that she wants to empower kids to cook. I’m with her on that.

Schools aren’t the only place where kids can get empowered to cook. They should be learning the skills in their own kitchens. Parents should be teaching their children — girls and boys — basic cooking skills and allowing them to mess up the kitchen often.

Here are 10 things outside of showing them how to follow a recipe that you can do to help empower your kids to cook.

  1. Make sure there is a sturdy step stool or chair for smaller children so they can reach counter height.
  2. Teach measuring skills. Explain what the numbers and words on measuring cups and spoons mean and work with kids on mastering a quarter cup or a tablespoon.
  3. Get them their own cookbook. It doesn’t have to be a kids’ cookbook. It could be one that focuses on a food they like such as pasta or chicken. Or get a subscription to Chop Chop magazine, a new kids' cooking magazine that is really well done.
  4. Take kids to the market — the grocery store or the farmers market — and let them choose ingredients for the recipes they want to make.
  5. Teach kitchen safety. Show them how to wash hands thoroughly, handle knives properly (at the appropriate age, of course *), how to put knives safely out of the way, how to turn pot handles in so they don’t stick out, how to check and make sure they’ve turned off the stove and the oven, and all the other things that prevent injuries in the kitchen.
  6. Teach them to use kitchen tools (again, at appropriate ages). Cheese graters, garlic presses, mixers, blenders, and other gadgets really interest kids.
  7. Teach your kids where food comes from. Start a small garden. Take them to a farm to see cows that will eventually become beef or pigs that will eventually become bacon.
  8. Once kids get past preschool, don’t call things like “worms in the dirt” and “ants on a log” cooking. You don’t have to do away with them, just let kids know those things aren’t cooking.
  9. As their skills improve, let them know which dishes you’ll allow them to cook on their own without your supervision and which dishes they need to have a grown-up by their side to make.
  10. Teach them to clean up after themselves. Making a mess is fine. Leaving a mess is not.
* You may want to know what’s the appropriate age for certain tasks that could be dangerous. I’ve seen lists that say don’t let a kid have anything sharper than a butter knife before they’re 10 years old, but I don’t agree with that. I think you need to know the child you’re teaching, know his level of coordination, maturity, and interest, and use your judgment.

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