04/08/2014 02:37 pm ET Updated Jun 08, 2014

The Best Thing to Do With your Kids in the Kitchen

Katie Morford

One afternoon several years ago, I told the kids we all needed to pitch in to clean the house. Guests were due to arrive within the hour. I assigned each girl one bathroom, handing off sponges and cleansers to get the job done. A short while later, I popped in on each of them to check on their progress. They were earnestly at work, but didn't look like they'd made a dent in restoring the sparkle to the tile and chrome of our bathrooms. The youngest, Virginia, looked perplexed and finally said,

"Mom, well, I don't really know how to clean a toilet."

It quickly occurred to me that of course she didn't know how to clean a toilet, or any other part of a bathroom, for that matter. I'd never taught her. Unlike breathing or breastfeeding, scrubbing tile isn't exactly instinctive.

And nor is cooking. Your children may absorb some familiarity with meal prep simply by being in the kitchen. But really, unless we teach our kids to cook, they won't know how. They will arrive in their first apartment with a set of cheap knives without a clue as to how to use them.

Arming your kids with skills at the stove has enormous upsides, some of which benefit us parents rather nicely. Cooking with your kids:

  • Will up the likelihood that they'll eat what's on the table, even healthy foods. This includes vegetable they heretofore said they didn't like. I've witnessed this first-hand amongst dozens of kids I've taught in cooking classes. It's also the case in food education programs such as Alice Waters' Edible Schoolyard. Got picky kids? Get them cooking.
  • Will provide practical learning opportunities: math skills as they measure, reading as they rattle off a recipe, logic as they follow directions, geography as they travel the culinary globe and art as they tinker with presentation.
  • Will give them a life skill that may make them healthier adults. People who cook and eat at home eat more nutritiously than those who don't.
  • Will give you one more way to connect. Having your child grate cheese as you assemble veggie enchiladas may be the best quality time you have all day.
  • Will lighten your load. Being able to turn to your 10-year-old and ask him to make and dress the salad means one less dinnertime chore for you to tackle.
  • Will foster independence and give them confidence to know that they are quite capable of doing for themselves.

and perhaps most importantly...

  • Will prepare them to one day, hopefully, cook for you. When they're adults, they will come to your house and make you delicious food as you relax with a glass of wine. I know because this is what my brother and sister and I do for my mom. She is still a wonderful cook, but she doesn't have to lift a finger if she doesn't feel like it.

The question now is, where to start? Invite your kids to help plan a meal this week. Pour over a favorite cookbook, cooking website, or blog. Ask them to pick out a recipe and help write up a shopping list of ingredients. Then, check out these 10 pointers to ease the transition and up the fun.

This post originally appeared on Katie's blog, Mom's Kitchen Handbook, where you can find recipes and tips for feeding a family. You can also follow her on Instagram @KatieMorford