Somebody wise (OK, my husband!) once said that cooking is the most important eco-art of all. And it's also been documented that kids who cook choose healthier foods.

With all those holiday parties coming up, and plenty of food prep to go with it, now may be the perfect time to get your children cooking. Not only will it teach them an important life skill, but it also gives them an opportunity to create something they can show off in front of family and friends. Given we tend to have crazy schedules over the holidays, cooking together is also a rare opportunity for some true quality time.

But as anybody who has actually cooked with kids knows, more hands don't necessarily mean less work. (And they certainly don't ensure less mess!) Below are some strategies for holiday cooking with children, without losing your mind. 

Make time to do it right

If you are rushing to get a dish prepared for a holiday potluck and you're leaving in an hour, now may not be the ideal time to get the kids involved. By planning ahead, and carving out some quality time for kid-centric cooking, you can make sure you have time to really focus on the little ones and enjoy what you are creating. 

Find kid-friendly recipes

From gingerbread houses to holiday cookies, festive recipes lend themselves well to sparking children's' imaginations. But it doesn't have to all be sugary sweets either. Tiny pizzas, for example, can be a fun addition to the holiday buffet. Or try some of the fun healthy holiday kids recipes here. (The banana snowmen look awesome!) 

3 boys in the kitchenAllow them to experiment (and fail)

With younger children, your goal is really to just get them experiencing food and cooking — not creating the perfect dish. So why not put a little of whatever recipe you are working on and let them experiment with whatever ingredients you have to hand? Chances are, you'll have a culinary disaster — but your aspiring chef will have a blast creating it. For older children, you could ask them to pick out a recipe of their choice and make it fully themselves.

Provide age-appropriate tasks

It goes without saying that kitchen tasks should be divvied out according to age and ability. For 3- to 4-year-olds, have them help mix and pour ingredients, and expect them to get bored quickly. But 4- to 6-year-olds will most likely get into rolling out cookie dough, cutting out cookies, and maybe chopping ingredients with a safe, plastic knife. Around age 9 and onwards, children will be ready to start learning how to use the microwave and maybe even the stove. But be sure to supervise very carefully until you know they are competent and safe.  

Talk about what they are learning

Cooking, like many creative activities, is an opportunity to learn about all kinds of things. As a registered dietitian, I love to talk to my kids about the nutritional value of the foods they are preparing (including why sugary treats are a "less often" food!). But you can also talk about where their food comes from, who grew/raised it, and perhaps learn some math through the basics of weights and measures too. 

Jenni Grover MS RD LDN is a registered dietitian and co-founder of Realistic Nutrition Partners in Durham, N.C. She specializes in child, maternal and prenatal nutrition, with a focus on whole foods.

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