Family night cooking adventures where everyone gets to flex and strengthen their culinary muscles don’t have to involve sophisticated or time-consuming recipes. If you start with foundations that kids already crave, you are one step ahead when it comes to improving their kitchen skills.

For instance, if, instead of immediately teaching them to prepare waffles from scratch, what if you started with whole-grain toaster waffles and taught them to create a sophisticated topping that would stretch their palate? What if, rather than making an entire pasta dish, you showed them how to enhance a healthful sauce with hidden treasures?

Those and other meal-starters follow. The absolute best news is that, once started, you probably won’t be able to get your kids to stop wanting to be pint-sized short-order cooks.

All ingredients are to taste. Children should be supervised at all times in the kitchen and any tasks with heat or knives should be performed by adults, with children as observers.

SAY WOW TO THESE WAFFLES

Prepare this topping for whole-grain toaster waffles. A half hour before serving, to create a topping, marinate the following in one part sugar-free pancake syrup and one part pure maple syrup: freshly chopped basil and mint, ground cinnamon, sliced strawberries and chopped apples, stirring occasionally.

SMART SAUCE

Purchase a bottled marinara sauce with the least amount of sugar shown on the label. Place it in a saucepot for stovetop cooking or a microwave-safe container for microwave heating. Before heating according to product instructions, stir in the following (all kid-sized, bite-sized chunks): Roma tomatoes, carrots, green bell pepper and unpeeled zucchini. Use a cheese grater just before serving to grate a small amount of Parmesan cheese over the sauce. CHOCOLATE FOR FUN AND FITNESS
To the milk of your choice (regular, low-fat, almond, soy, coconut, etc.), add unsweetened cocoa powder (a provider of antioxidants and fiber), stevia natural zero-calorie sweetener and a small amount of strawberry all-fruit spread (found in the jam aisles of most supermarkets). Stir well and serve with a dollop of store-bought nondairy topping or homemade whipped cream.

VEGETABLES FOR THE VERY CREATIVE

Mash some cooked cauliflower and add salt, freshly ground pepper and a small amount of butter and stir until smooth for a side dish that mimics mashed potatoes. Have especially adventurous kid cooks pick an additional spice blend to add to the mix, such as curry powder, Mexican seasoning or Chinese Five-Spice powder (available in the seasoning aisle of most supermarkets and including star anise, cinnamon, cloves, fennel and pepper).

QUICK TIP OF THE WEEK: One of my all-time favorite kids’ cookbooks — for either adult-supervised kids or busy parents — is “365 Foods Kids Love to Eat: Fun, Nutritious and Kid Tested” by Sheila Ellison and Judith Gray. It’s gone through three editions in over 20 years and the perennial favorites still are standouts, from soups, to sandwiches, to dinners. Each recipe only has a few ingredients and instructions and all are inspired by foods that kids already often enjoy. There is, for instance, an entire chapter on peanut butter, with easy recipes for winners like peanutty popcorn balls, peanut butter oatmeal and P.B. chip muffins.