Parents introduce their children to all types of new hobbies and skills. There are plenty of opportunities to open kids’ eyes to the world around them. One of the most valuable lessons parents can teach their children is how to inspire a lifelong love of cooking and food. Children will vary in their ability to undertake different cooking activities. Use your own judgment to choose tasks you think are suitable for your child. Safety is the biggest concern, beyond that a little trial and error is all part of the fun.

Knowing how to cook is a vital skill that can help children become more independent and ensure they know how to survive later in life on their own. Unfortunately, so many young adults go off to college without the ability to do more than power up a microwave or boil noodles. Ordering takeout all the time is expensive, and frozen dinners often lack the nutrition of homemade dishes. Learning how to cook various foods at an early age can lay the foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating and fun in the kitchen.

Parents can encourage children who show early inclinations in the kitchen and help reluctant learners develop some basic cooking skills. Here are some ways to make cooking something kids can look forward to:

Involve children in meal planning.

Get input from your children about what they might like to see on the menu. While there may be some items that are expected, including comfort foods like mac-and-cheese, parents may be surprised at how mature their children’s palates can be. Maybe they’ve heard about a dish on television or learned about a specific ethnic cuisine at school and want to give it a try.

Watch cooking shows together.

How-to cooking shows and competitions appear on both cable and network television. Kids may enjoy watching Gordon Ramsay mentor young chefs, Robert Irvine help to renovate a failing restaurant, or Ann Burrell assist self-proclaimed “worst chefs” shed those monikers. In addition, cooking shows can introduce kids to food-related terminology and get them heated up about cooking their own meals.

Ask for help in the kitchen.

Tailor cooking activities to youngsters’ ages. Little ones can begin by adding and stirring ingredients. As they get older, children can segue into chopping or even mixing foods on the stove. Many kids like being taste testers and offering advice on whether a food needs more spices. Teach children to wait until food is cooked before tasting. Don’t let them lick their fingers or put their hands in their mouths, especially when working with raw foods such as cookie dough and raw meat or poultry. Avoid double dipping or putting spoons back into food after using them for tasting. By middle school, many kids have the wherewithal to plan meals themselves and cook them from start to finish.

Be adventurous.

Introduce kids to various flavours by not only cooking various dishes at home, but by dining out at different restaurants. This can encourage kids to appreciate other cultures and cuisines.

When children learn to cook, they will do so by following the recipes carefully with your help. As they become older and more experienced, let them experiment with quantities, although remember that most baking recipes have specific quantities that will not work if changed. Give them opportunities to let their imagination run wild when it comes to presentation of the final dish.