In one of my favorite books, Love in the Time of Cholera, the main character pushes his plate away and says incredulously: “This meal has been prepared without love.” It is true sometimes we miss the secret ingredient most needed when creating a meal. We can best prepare meals with love when we give ourselves a break from cooking perfection.

So I encourage you to find ways to make cooking fun, whether creating a pizza kit to have your kids deliver dinner to you all by their little selves or simply learning how to build momentum by allowing yourself to make flawed meals your family will enjoy creating. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to give our family healthy and delicious meals each night. And, most meals cooked at home are more nutritious than any you buy in a restaurant. I have cooked for a living where all the finest ingredients go into making something special. The freshest organic products, hard to find and difficult to cultivate items, were prized. There is no doubt that high-quality items are essential. But let me put it to you straight–just getting dinner on the table is a victory.

So make it a game. Make it fun! Break it down into steps. And above all, let go of the idea that meals need to be perfect. Following a recipe can be constraining. Recipes are like training wheels. When you’re learning, they are great. But sometimes, you have to let go of the handlebars to test your abilities.

Remember, you have your senses for a reason. You have your eyes to see if the ingredients are visually pleasing. You have your mouth to taste as you cook. And what’s more, you have your children’s able hands to help.

The astonishing thing about cooking is how many separate tasks a cook needs to perform before getting their result, the ta-da on a plate. There is planning, shopping, prepping, and then cleaning up at the end.

Tricks for Fun and Success in the Kitchen

Use your senses. It is best if you don’t have any distractions—like the TV, phone, or computer– besides your kids and the food. That way, you can focus on your end goal.

  • Layer flavor. Add flavor throughout the cooking process. For example, salt the water if you are cooking pasta. Every chance you have to add flavor, do it.
  • Serve hot items hot and cold items cold. Lukewarm is precisely that.
  • Clean as you go. This is obvious, but it helps to keep you organized.
  • Shop one day, cook on another. Realistically you can’t stop after work and put together a meal without undue suffering. Shopping is a job on its own. Stock your kitchen with staples that are there for you when you need them. Buy your fresh produce and meat weekly.
  • Eat a mix of foods, you’ll get a better mix of nutrients.
  • Play CHOPPED. One of my favorite programs is Chopped. On Chopped, contestants have a limited amount of time and limited ingredients. Hey, just like real life. Suppose you have mozzarella cheese, spaghetti, chicken stock, basil, and corn. You could make pasta or a frittata!
  • Be prepared for failure or exhaustion. It is always handy to have a backup plan, so you don’t fall into the instant gratification trap or unhealthy snacking. Have a box of macaroni on hand, a bag of frozen peas, and a frozen pizza. Planning will save you from the fast-food panic.
  • Make a Pizza Kit. I love that pizza is a canvas waiting for a painter, a saucy painter, that is. It is hard to teach kids to cook because it isn’t one of the most straightforward tasks, even for those who have made dinners for decades. So I recommend this DIY pizza kit to let your kids engage in cooking and hopefully learn to love it!

 What is a Pizza Kit?

A pizza kit is a pizza round, sauce, mozzarella cheese, and topping of your choice. Set your kids up with an uncooked pizza round, let them paint away, and add the toppings they select. I always found my daughter was more willing to eat food she made, even if it wasn’t something she would usually like.

Dinner may not be perfect in the end, but your family will go to bed with vitamin L in their bellies. They will remember that when you cooked, and they helped, the food was made with love.