10/11/2013 12:29 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Make Your Kitchen a Classroom For Your Kids

When was the last time you cooked with your kids? Just as swimming and reading are essential life skills, so too is cooking. If you've got a picky eater, who might like to know that kids who help out in the kitchen are more likely to eat what they make.

Cooking with my kids means spending quality time and connecting with them while doing a fun activity. My six-year-old loves to bake, while my nine-year old enjoys chopping and helping to cook meals. Don't get me wrong. It's not always a kitchen utopia. There are spills and messes. But cleaning up is a good skill to learn. The best part, of course, is eating the fruits of our labour.

Cooking food not only encourages kids to eat healthier foods, but it reinforces skills they've learned at school.

Eat up these benefits:

Reading: Reading the recipe, learning new words and food terms, following instructions.

Math: Counting, measuring, fractions, sequencing (what comes in what order).

Science: Learning about different foods, how food grows, making predictions, how food changes when cooked, using their senses.

Motor skills: Pouring, chopping, stirring, scooping, cutting, grating.

Social skills: Taking turns, following safety rules (washing hands, tying long hair), building self-esteem and confidence.

Making family recipes also passes down traditional knowledge and can be a fun cultural journey.

Start with something simple, like a smoothie or muffin. My six-year old cranked his creativity into full gear when he wanted to add grapes and apple to a smoothie. I was skeptical at first, but it actually tasted refreshing.

Read more about getting your kids in the kitchen.

Read more of Zannat's nutrition tips and recipes in her column on masalamommas.

Follow Zannat at @food4happiness

Sweet potato fries

Who doesn't like fries? Try these easy baked in the oven fries.


· 2-3 large sweet potatoes

· 1 tbsp canola oil

· Salt to taste

· Spices (optional) -- try smoked sweet paprika OR garam masala OR a pinch of turmeric/coriander


· Preheat oven to 400F.

· Scrub, peel and cut sweet potatoes into "fries."

· Toss with canola oil, salt, spices.

· Place in a single layer on parchment or foil-lined baking tray.

· Bake for 15 minutes. Flip the fries over. Bake for another 15 minutes until cooked through.

Kids can scrub the potatoes, use the grater, toss the fries with the seasonings, and place them on the tray.

By Zannat Reza