For our family, dinnertime is a big deal. We love to cook. We love to eat. And, we just love the together time it gives us at the end of each day.
But, things can get crazy quickly. I know. From the moment we walk in the door with the kiddos after work, my wife and I are on a tight schedule to prepare and eat dinner, bathe, play, wind down, read books and get to bed at a reasonable hour. Lucky for me, my boys are only two-and-a-half years old and 4-months old. So, we’re not squeezing soccer practice and homework into our nightly routine just yet. Plus, the littler guy is usually pretty good as long as one of us is holding him. The real trick is keeping John-John engaged while we prepare dinner so we can all eat together.
Better than handing over the phone or tablet to keep your toddler’s attention, getting kids involved is great for their self-esteem and cognitive development. Asking your two-year old to help out is a very satisfying experience for everyone involved. And, it’s not as hard as you might think.
Here are five toddler activities that can buy you 30-minutes of hands-free time in the kitchen:
1. What’s this do?
As we get ready to feed our hungry bodies, we take moments to feed his little brain. What’s this do? is an easy Q&A game we play with all the utensils in our junk drawer (More organized moms and dads might just place their utensil caddy in the middle of the floor… but, don’t judge our clutter!). We started by pulling out the spatula, ladle, whisk and wood spoon one-by-one, asking John-John, “what’s this do?”
His initial response, “I not know,” was followed by a quick tutorial and make-believe demo. Before too long, your little one will be pulling melon ballers and garlic presses out of the drawer to tell you exactly how to use them. Then, you can start playing Get me the “_______” game with your little kitchen helper (Please, please, please make sure you’ve removed any sharp objects like knives, cheese graters or peelers before you get started!)
2. Dish Duty
What kid doesn’t like to splash around in the water? Dish Duty is a great “chore” to keep the kiddo busy, and it sets the stage for having him really do the dishes after meals in the coming years. All you need are plastic plates, cups and dinnerware, which I’m sure every parent out there has in spades.
Make sure your little one has watched you do the dishes a time or two before you simply put him in front of the sink. The more time you need to finish up dinner, the more dishes you get out. It’s that easy. Let me be honest, though. These dishes don’t actually get clean. But, if they start clean, they don’t exactly get dirty either. So, it’s a wash (Ha ha! … See what I did there?).
3. Smoothie Chef
Getting your toddler actively involved in preparing what he eats is a great way to instill a deeper appreciation for the foods he puts in his body. We get John-John to help by making smoothies.
Smoothies are excellent for a number of reasons: 1. Cutting fruit is a great toddler-friendly kitchen activity, 2. You can load smoothies will all kinds of healthy, power foods that your toddler might scoff at if you just put them on his plate, 3. Getting ice from the freezer is a great toddler-friendly activity. 4. Pushing the buttons on the blender is very, very cool.
Plus, you can create healthy popsicles by freezing your leftover smoothie (placing plastic spoons in your ice cube tray, then pouring in the smoothie). Overnight you’ll have tasty treats ready to go for those warm, summer days playing in the backyard.
4. Spice Tower Engineer
Let’s see how your toddler’s kitchen skills stack up … literally. Stacking (and knocking down) is great for building hand-eye coordination and concentration.
We start with plates and bowls. Then, we add spice canisters (all plastic, of course). Sure, you could use the same building blocks you have in his room. But, this is the kitchen! There are all sorts of interesting objects you can put on your tower. Plus, adding a little spice to the meal is a great toddler-friendly activity … as long as you’re ok with an over-spiced dish from time to time.
5. Kitchen Books
Your little guy has no doubt seen you pull cookbooks off the shelf to look for new dinner ideas or to double check the measurements in your homemade salad dressing recipe. So, give him a set of kitchen books to reference as well.
Kitchen books are great for seek-and-find activities. John-John loves searching through his stack of books to show us a dragon eating pizza, a mouse with cereal eyes or a pickle wearing a crown. We keep several food-related books stacked above our cookbooks. Whenever my wife or I grab a cookbook, we get his stack of books down, too.
It may seem pretty simple, but this is actually where the idea behind the Kitchen Club Kids® recipe-adventure storybooks was born. Using recipes as the basis for each counting story, Kitchen Club Kids books are a cross between cookbook, storybook and schoolbook.
Many nights, we employ these types of kitchen activities coupled together. It’s good to have a few tasks or chores lined up before you start cooking. This way, you’re ready when your little one’s attention drifts.
All in all, it just takes some planning, a few go-to tricks and a stack of kitchen books to keep your toddler engaged while you’re getting dinner ready. Who knows? These activities could be the building blocks that inspire your child to become the next kitchen product designer, world-renowned chef, architect, English professor or artist. But, if all they do is allow you to get everyone sitting around the dinner table at the same time (without any meltdowns), that’s not such a bad thing either.
Photos courtesy of Larry Puzniak, Kitchen Club Kids.