Am I alone when I say that the 4-5 o’clock hours of the day, heck, maybe even 4-6 o’clock, can be the most challenging of them all? The kids are tired. The house looks like a major war zone. We’ve run out of things to do. And I NEED to get dinner on the table!
Because I am a food blogger, on many days, most of my time around that late afternoon period is dedicated to working in the kitchen, scribbling down recipes as I cook, taking photos, you know, that sort of thing. But I’ve also got two little kiddos that come first, and keeping them busy during this time is not for the weary. It’s no different than any other mama trying to get dinner on the table, just a few extra steps, but what I find is that my kids gravitate to wherever I am, no matter what I am doing. When I am in the kitchen, they are in the kitchen showing me what they are doing, bringing every single toy into my little kitchen bubble, chatting away and, basically taking over my work space. So what I have found, after MUCH trial in error, is that keeping them involved with what I am doing and allowing them to participate makes everyone pretty darn happy.
There are so many benefits to bringing our kids into the kitchen with us, you guys. No matter what they are doing in that kitchen, they are seeing, touching, hearing, smelling, tasting and using their senses beyond measure. They are learning to help, to work for things. They are gaining a sense of confidence that their work is important, too. And by making them a part of the process we are more likely to see them enjoy their time at the table.
While the opportunities to keep them involved in the kitchen are endless, my kiddos (4 and 2 years old) have a few favorite ways to ‘help me out’ during the dinner prep hour(s). Now don’t get me wrong, there are days where I have to depend on a TV show to keep everyone’s sanity, I wont deny it. But too much of that gives me an icky feeling. Having a few fun, kid-approved activities in my back pocket makes a world of difference, and I can’t help but share these activities with you in hopes that they may simplify your meal preparation time, too. These activities are simple with no fancy tools or equipment, hands-free-for-mama (mostly), so much fun for the kiddos and basically my saving grace during my most challenging hours of the day!
- Let Them Chop Veggies
This is probably my kiddos favorite because they feel like they are truly doing grown-up stuff. No matter what’s being served for dinner that night, you can never go wrong with veggies and dip on the table, so let them cut those veggies up. The shapes and slices wont be perfect, but they will be perfectly edible. So many pros to this. First, if they cut them, they taste them. SCORE! Second, it opens up opportunity for education and gratitude. Tell them where those veggies grew, how they benefit their bodies and how fortunate they are to have access to such delicious, healthy foods. My kids use these knives. They are fantastic for little hands and can cut most raw vegetables. You’ll need to teach your kids the motion of cutting, but once they have it down they will be prepping salads for you in no time, I promise!
2. Have Them Make a “Table Arrangement”
Cheesy? Perhaps. But it gets them excited every time. I always try to keep popsicle sticks, construction paper and fun stickers on hand, and those tend to be their go-to’s for this activity. Here they have made ‘butterfly flowers in a vase.” Fancy shmancy, no? They feel pretty darn proud putting them on the table, even if it is just the four of us, and this activity will keep them plenty busy so you can focus on your own thing.
3. Let Them Play with Pasta
Man has this been a lifesaver over the years for me. It looks like nothing but it is totally something. Dried, uncooked pasta, muffin tins and muffin liners have by far been the most played with “toys” in this house. Give them their tins, liners, measuring spoons and cups and a big old bowl of uncooked pasta and they will be set for longer then you will believe. Scooping, measuring, filling and letting their imaginations run wild. Who needs a sensory table, anyway?
4. Let Them Mop The Floor
Yes, I’ve done it all. And this one is a double whammy. They LOVE this activity. And my floors get cleaned. So sure, mop away, kiddos! Fill the bucket up with just a tiny bit of water, hand them over the mops and you are a free bird with clean floors!
5. Let Them Make “Place Cards”
They make a card for each member of the family to mark their spot at the table. Sometimes I will give them large sheets of construction paper to make placemats, but folding a small square of construction paper, writing the names on them and letting them decorate with stickers and markers is our usual go-to. It puts a bit of special in the meal and makes them feel so proud!
6. Let Them Wash Dishes
Sounds silly, but this is one that could keep my kids busy for hours. Dump a bunch of plastic storage containers or better yet, their toys that need cleaning, in a sink filled with bubbles, hand them a dish brush and let them go to town. I’m expecting this to groom them to do the real dishes in no time, and I can’t wait 😉
What are your favorite ways to include your littles in the kitchen? Please share!