Benefits to creating tasty meals with your family

(BPT) - Cooking at home is not just about getting dinner on the table. Creating meals together benefits your family in many ways, well beyond helping ensure everyone in the household likes what they eat.

Here are five reasons to involve your children in meal prep.

1. Kids learn a lot

It’s amazing how many skills are involved in cooking:

  • Reading
  • Following directions
  • Using math for quantities and measurements
  • Discovering scientific processes in cooking and baking

Cooking together also involves teamwork, communication and valuable life lessons like meal planning and budgeting.

2. Help others fight hunger

Another meaningful life lesson is teaching kids about giving back to the community. By choosing ingredients with the Produce for Kids logo in your grocery store's produce department, you’ll help feed people in need. Produce for Kids has raised $7 million for Feeding America and other charities supporting children and families.

3. Establish healthy lifelong habits

Choosing recipes featuring fresh produce boosts your family's health while establishing good habits for life. Explore for great options — all approved by a registered dietitian. For example, try substituting every kid's favorite, French fries, with this healthier version:

Baked Avocado Fries

2 firm, ripe avocados, sliced ½-inch thick
1 lemon, juiced
1 lime, juiced
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning, divided

Preheat oven to 425°F.
Combine lemon and lime juice in small bowl. Mix bread crumbs, ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon lemon pepper in separate bowl.
Dip avocados into juice, season with ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon lemon pepper and press into bread crumbs.
Spray baking sheet with cooking spray, lay avocados single layer and bake 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.
Serve with chipotle ranch dressing or cilantro lime dipping sauce using Greek yogurt.
Serves 4.

4. Cooking is creative

Once your children have mastered cooking basics, let them be creative. Learning what flavors go together and increasing their knowledge of ingredients makes cooking about much more than following directions. Encourage kids to experiment with recipes or create their own. What they invent (with a little supervision) may surprise you!

Start with a recipe that's easy to customize with your favorite substitutions, like these flavor-packed, plant-based burgers:

Southwest Black Bean Burgers

1/2 red bell pepper, cut in half
1/2 small RealSweet sweet onion, cut in half
1 (15-ounce) can low-sodium black beans, drained, rinsed
1 large egg
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon olive oil
4 hamburger buns
1 Sunset tomato on the vine, sliced
1 Mission Produce avocado, sliced

Place pepper and onion in food processor and blend until finely chopped (if there's a lot of water after blending, strain using mesh strainer). If you don't have a food processor, grate or finely chop instead.
Mash beans in large bowl. Add pepper/onion, egg, breadcrumbs, chili powder, cumin and garlic powder. Season with salt and pepper to taste and mix well. Divide into 4 patties.
Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Cook patties 6-8 minutes each side.
Top buns with burgers, tomato and avocado.
Serves 4.

Substitutions to try:

  • Black Beans: Swap with other types of beans.
  • Veggies: Try mushrooms, zucchini, carrots or celery.
  • Breadcrumbs: Use store-bought or homemade, regular or whole wheat.
  • Seasonings: Adjust seasonings, depending on preferred spice level.
  • Toppings: Add favorite toppings, like sauteed mushrooms or cheese.

5. Develop confidence

Mastering cooking tasks helps your child develop feelings of competence. Consider your child’s age, and supervise for safety. Children's abilities vary greatly, so start by allowing children to measure, stir or garnish — adding tasks as they get older and gain experience and skill.

Here's an easy recipe that kids will love to make:

Orange, Mango and Banana Smoothie Ice Pops

1 Coast Tropical mango, sliced
1 banana
1 large orange, juiced
1/2 cup vanilla Greek yogurt or alternative yogurt

Place mango, banana, orange juice and yogurt in blender. Blend until smooth.
Pour into molds and freeze 2-3 hours, or until frozen.