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 keep your children occupied while you cook dinner. This will allow you to make sure you cook the meal properly and is much safer for everyone.
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 T 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!
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.
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!
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:
J: T, why don’t you go to the playroom and read while we finish cooking.
T: Daddy, don’t you mean look at the books? I don’t know how to read!
For a child like R, 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.
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.
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 T, 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.