It’s not easy or safe to cook a meal with kids under your feet. Try these 9 easy ways to occupy children while you are cooking.
When you are trying to cook a meal for your family, it can be much more difficult if you have children (or pets for that matter) under your feet constantly begging for your attention. While it’s important to acknowledge the little ones, you also need to make sure you can concentrate on the meal so dinner isn’t burned and no one gets hurt.
If you have kids in the kitchen, make sure they know some basic safety and hygiene rules. I can’t tell you how many times I have had one of the boys (or the cat) so close that when I turn around, I almost stumble over them. This can be dangerous because if that were to happen while transferring something hot, it could drop and hit you or the child. Or if you were holding a knife, or a glass dish, or any number of accidents that can happen in the kitchen.
But of course, you can’t use that as a reason not to cook dinner. Everyone has to eat eventually. I’ve come up with a few ideas for ways to occupy children while you are cooking dinner. This will allow you to make sure you cook the meal properly and is much safer for everyone.
Originally Published On: May 10, 2018
Last Updated On: August 26, 2020
Water Play in the Sink
If you don’t need your sink for the meal you are preparing, consider letting the kids have a bit of water play in the sink. Fill it with an inch or two of water and give them different sized cups to move water back and forth. Kids also tend to like spoons, sponges, bowls, and anything else that will hold water. As a bonus, add some dish soap so they have bubbles too!
Let them Help
This isn’t so much of a distraction as it is a suggestion. If your child is old enough, let them help! If they can’t reach the counters, then get a sturdy stool for them to stand on. My boys both have a stool at their bathroom sink and bring those in the kitchen when they are helping us cook.
Children of almost any age can do some things in the kitchen. My boys love to help pour things out of measuring cups, stirring, and anything else they can do. We’ve started teaching Tyler how to crack an egg, and I’ve let them both help at the stovetop a couple of times each. Learning to cook is an extremely important life skill, so start them young!
If you don’t have another way to occupy children while you are cooking, then have them join in!
Once your child is old enough, reading is a great way to pass the time. And even if they aren’t old enough to read yet, your children can always look through a book and tell their own story based on the pictures.
We tried this once and had the following conversation:
Justin: Tyler, why don’t you go to the playroom and read while we finish cooking.
Tyler: Daddy, don’t you mean look at the books? I don’t know how to read!
Toy Kitchen Utensils
Before the boys were old enough to help in the kitchen, they had a bunch of toy kitchen utensils, pots and pans, bowls, spoons, spatulas, etc. I also gave them some wooden spoons and my old oven mitts to put with their kitchen stuff. We kept all of this in a lower cabinet on the far side of the kitchen, and they were only allowed to play with it while I was cooking.
Keeping their toys in a lower cabinet meant they could reach them without help. And they were in the last cabinet in the kitchen to keep them away from the oven and stove with all of the hot foods, and out from under my feet while I was working. They liked to be in the kitchen with me, so this was a great compromise.
Get a shoebox and fill it with random things the kids can tinker with. The recycling bin is a great place to look for these items. This encourages the use of their imagination, and can also include some fine motor skills. Give them a challenge such as how high can you build before it falls or separate by color or size.
To make the tinker box more interesting, only bring this out while you are cooking, and switch out the objects in it every few weeks. If children know they only get this box while you are cooking, then it becomes a treat.
For a child like Ryan, food is the best distraction! That boy loves to eat. Now and then, while I am cooking, I will give him a very small, healthy snack. He doesn’t get much to eat because I want him to eat dinner, but it’s enough to keep his belly happy while I cook. Also, make sure it’s something healthy so they don’t fill up on junk food right before dinner.
I don’t know why, but children love to stack things as high as possible! Designate some plastic cups that are for the children to play with and let them have fun building towers then knocking them down. If you have multiple children, you could do a different color for each child so no one complains about who has more cups.
My boys, especially Tyler, love to color and play with stickers in their coloring books. Give your child a coloring book and some crayons for a quiet activity that they can do on their own. You can sit them at the dining room table so they are close while you are cooking, but not in the way of any danger in the kitchen. And of course, stickers make everything better!
Those nights that you don’t mind a little bit more of a mess, play-doh is a great way to keep the kids occupied. When my boys play with it, I will use painters tape to adhere a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil to the table so the play-doh doesn’t get mashed into the dining room table.
When all else fails, put on their favorite movie or tv show. I don’t believe children need a lot of screen time, but there are those days that it’s the only thing that will keep them entertained for more than 3 minutes. If you have one of those days that you need to make the tv the babysitter, then go for it. Just make sure it doesn’t become a habit for you or them.
Overall, in our house, if you aren’t helping cook the meal then you aren’t supposed to be in the kitchen. The boys will sometimes sit or stand at the entrance to the kitchen to watch, but they don’t come in unless they are cooking with me. I’ve found these methods to occupy children while you are cooking helps so much in our house!
21 thoughts on “9 Easy Ways to Occupy Children while you are Cooking”
These are all great ideas! I use many of them with my girls, and they work every single time.
I use these techniques with my daughter. It truly helps. Especially for her to help out in the kitchen.
Wonderful ideas. I’m kind of excited for my kid to be able to read. He’s still 3 and in preschool so I’m looking forward to that day. That will surely keep him preoccupied.
Reminds me of the tupperware cupboard the kids use to play in while I was working in the kitchen. As they got older they always helped me bake in the kitchen.
Awesome ideas. I love the tip on getting the most to help if they are able/old enough. It is teaching them vital life skills
These are all great ways to occupy them. I used to try to get my daughter to help me out a bit. Things got a bit wonky when I got a divorce but I still like her helping me there and she loves to help.
Utilized several of these when my kids were little. Some great new ideas in here that I would never have thought of.
Sweet. Thanks for sharing!!
My sister set up a play kitchen just outside her kitchen for my niece to use while she cooked. It worked amazingly well.
These ideas will come in handy when we have kids someday! My parents always had me help cook when I was a kid.
I know that this can be a huge struggle in our house. I definitely let my kids help when I can but these other ways of keeping them busy are great.
Charlotte is crawling now so mostly I put a punch of spatulas and mixing bowls on the floor for her. She LOVES it!
This is so true and I still have a cat that prefers to stand behind me when I cook. It really can be dangerous. These are great tips and reminders for all.
I don’t have kids but sometimes I babysit for my best friend’s little boy and I love it! We often cook together, I give him fun little tasks to do which he fully embrace.
These are all such great ideas! Sometimes I want to cook or bake things that require my attention and my 4-year-old requires more. Lol. I’m at the stage where I let him “help” and it’s been great!
There are some great tips here! I’m going to forward this onto my friend who has been having trouble with this exact issue. Thank you!
Great tips. Letting them help is one of my favourites. My kids would help wash the veggies and then boast that they cooked and are the reason the food is tasty.
Oh yes good old sink play! That is such a good one. I also used to let my daughter loose on ingredients like the herbs etc so she could make a witches soup!
These are all great tips! I usually ask mine to help me.
Mine love to help when it’s okay for them too. It’s good to get them to learn to cook early on.
Great tips here…this is actually quite challenging when you have little ones so very helpful post for parents. I remember what a chore it was to get dinner ready while the kids were running about.