photo: Agnes Hsu via Hello Wonderful

Let’s be honest—one of your main parenting responsibilities is feeding little humans and sometimes it can be exasperating. Picky eaters, different preferences, early morning and end-of-the-day pressures are just a few things that can turn a family meal into something other than fun. Wishing you had a sous chef? Someone invested in liking the food instead of rejecting it?

There’s a way to outsource some of the cooking without paying someone else to cut the broccoli—and it’s right there under your feet asking what’s for dinner anyway. Here’s the thing: they have to learn to do it themselves sometime. What if sometime could start now?

Here’s how you get there: create your own catalog of easy recipes that kids can actually help with. If you’re working on your PhD in parenting you are likely long on common sense—you want them away from open flames and butcher knives, obviously, but that doesn’t mean they can’t cook. Want some examples? We thought you’d never ask!

  1. Standard Smoothie. Got a blender? Great. Nobody’s allowed to stick their hands in the bottom of it. You knew that. But putting half a banana, 1 cup of fruit, ½ cup of milk (or soy or almond), ½ cup of yogurt, ½ cup of juice, handful of nuts, 1 tbsp. of seeds is pretty darn doable and involves some fun measuring and math. And what do you do? Make sure the top of the blender is on securely. You have one job.
  2. Easy Pan-Toasted Gnocchi. Pasta, without the boiling water. Nice! A pan and low followed by medium heat. You can let go of this one with just a small bit of supervision. Half a minced shallot and a minced clove of garlic. You can even do some minced garlic from a jar to avoid knife work. Heat it lightly until you can smell it. Add fresh gnocchi and turn up the heat to medium. Quick-stir until golden-brown.  Serve with sauce and a veggie of choice. Or don’t!
  3. Antipasto. Just get a big platter or a pretty cutting board and get out of the way. Have your culinary artists lay out an appetizing amount of buffalo mozzarella, olives, salami, roasted peppers, breadsticks, fancy crackers or whatever you’ve got.
  4. Basic pancake batter. Why did you ever think you had to do this alone? One egg gets cracked. Then it’s easy measuring of 1 cup of milk (or soy/almond milk), 1 cup of flour, ½ tsp. of baking powder, ¼ tsp. salt. Whisk it up! Fun adds: mashed banana, chopped pecans, chocolate chips or blueberries. Pro-tip: If you’re freaking out about what’s going to spill where, put them on a step ladder and have them measure in the sink.
  5. Smashed or mashed potatoes. You can deal with the boiling. Then let them do the rest. You can go with butter and milk or just olive oil. Salt and pepper. Someone have some excess energy? Get out the masher.
  6. Guacamole. You can cut and pit them and chop up some garlic, onion and cilantro and/or jalapeno. Cut a lime in half. That’s all you have to do. Let them scoop the avocado into a bowl, add the ingredients and mash it altogether. Couldn’t be easier.

Top Chef Jr., here you come!  Or at least you’re on your way to some less stressful family meals.