Encouraging your children to eat more fruits and vegetables is a challenge, but the solution is simpler than you think - just get your kids to help out in the kitchen.

While it's true that inviting your youngsters to cook meals with you requires more cleaning up, more patience and more time, most experts agree that it's well worth the effort.

Cooking isn't just a crucial life skill. Research suggests that kids with cooking prowess are more likely to develop a taste for healthy food. And that's on top of the quality family time that cooking together offers.

Here's how making your children into miniature chefs benefits their long-term health, and how you can start incorporating cooking into your family bonding time.

1. It develops healthy habits

A study published in Public Health Nutrition found that kids who cook choose to eat fruit and vegetables more than their non-cooking friends. In particular, vegetable preference was 10 percent higher among kids who cooked. This shows that a better understanding of food encourages better food choices.

2. It offers a teaching moment

Your children look to you as an example, whether they realize it or not. Taking the time to cook with them before or after work reminds them that they can learn valuable skills from you.

It will also establish memories and skills they'll carry with them throughout their lives. You could even show them how to make one of your favorite meals or a relative's fantastic dish, bringing back the old "family recipe" tradition.

3. It allows bonding time

Spending enough time with your children as a single father (or mother) can seem like an almost insurmountable challenge, no matter how hard you try. But, no matter how hectic things get, you always need time to eat. Bringing your children into the kitchen is the perfect way to fit bonding moments into your daily schedule.

4. It teaches a range of skills

Cooking with your kids is a great way to teach them healthy habits, but that's not all. They'll build literacy skills by following directions, math skills by measuring and mixing and science skills by recognizing cause and effect.

5. It makes your kids less picky

Time in the kitchen with mom or dad is a great way to make youngsters more adventurous with their food. When they're learning how to cook, children often like to taste new things, mix new flavors together and see what they can create. This means you have countless opportunities to introduce your kids to new and healthy foods without having to sneak them into their favorite meals.

Getting the kids involved with cooking

So, how old should your children be to get started in the kitchen?

Surprisingly, many kids begin to show an interest when they're around two or three years old. That means the earlier you can begin, the better. The younger your children are when you begin to introduce them to healthy eating, the more likely they'll be to maintain positive habits for the future.

When you get children involved in meal prep, they feel like a part of the creative process. They take pride in their work, and they're more likely to eat foods they made and are proud of. Even children who are too young to chop vegetables can throw them in the frying pan or help read ingredients out of a book.

Finding the time to cook together

If you usually have a little extra time between waking up and dropping the kids off at school, or you're looking for an interesting way to start your weekends, you could consider teaching during breakfast. Evidence indicates that eating breakfast every morning helps improve your child's memory and test grades. It's a win all around.

Don't worry if you don't have time to cook in the morning - dinner is just as good. If you know one day will be particularly busy with work or appointments, you can pre-cut some of the foods you wouldn't ask your children to handle (such as raw meats or produce requiring a sharp knife) and place them in the fridge the night before.

It's easy to get tunnel vision after a long day of work and focus on getting a meal prepared quickly so you can sit down and relax. But remember - this is your opportunity to spend time with your children and have a real impact on their lives. Go at a pace that's right for you and your child. You'll both both be glad you did.

Cooking up a healthier future

Teaching children how to cook lets your kids know that food can taste good, even when it's not sugar-coated. You also get a chance to start spending time with your youngsters in a productive way, leaving a crucial impact on them.

It's true that cooking with children can lead to a very messy kitchen, but it also introduces valuable life skills that will benefit your kids for years to come. Food nourishes the body, but cooking with your children nourishes their minds and their relationship with their parents.

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