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Around the holiday time, a lot of what we think about and the activities we do center around food. Hearty, lovingly made meals made at home and enjoyed as a family are a great tool for bonding, and can pack lots of nutrition, learning opportunities, and fun to boot!

More than just placing a meal on the table, consider taking some time this holiday season to teach your child how simple groceries become a delicious meal. Depending on the age of your child, there are a variety of tasks they can help with, or even just observe- all while spending time together.

Infants can observe you cooking, from a safe distance of course, and still stimulate their senses and brain development. Sit your child in his highchair and talk to him while you prepare the meal. Show him brightly colored foods and different utensils and describe them in a happy, upbeat voice, allowing your child to observe them closely. This is just the first step to bonding in the kitchen and over a meal.

In toddler-hood, children become increasingly curious. Have your child sit somewhere safe nearby and ask him all kinds of questions about food, cooking, and meals. This can range anywhere from “What’s your favorite vegetable?” to “What do you want to eat today?” to “What ingredients do you think go into apple pie?” Engaging your toddler with what you are doing in the kitchen ignites his curiosity and forms strong bonds.

By preschool your child may actively ask questions, or follow you around in the kitchen, trying to figure out what you are doing. Now is a good age where they can start helping with the little things. For example, you can ask him “Can you pick out 3 medium onions?” or “Can you measure out 3 tablespoons of oil?” This way your child feels as though he is being helpful and actively participating in the process of making the family meal.

Starting your child’s culinary education from a young age has plenty of benefits. These activities encourage him to think critically about food, understand basic science concepts (the boiling point of water, measurements, and food reacting together are all simple science we sometimes forget!), and of course, learn all the elements it takes to cook a nutritious family meal. This holiday season make some memories, and even skills, that will last a lifetime.