You know the scene. Your toddler is sitting quietly being incredibly independent, so you race into the kitchen to start chopping veggies for one of your patented quick dinners. Before you even finish mincing the onions your kid marches in, demanding your attention. While handing them an iPad or other screen can certainly be helpful in a pinch, there are plenty of alternative solutions—and products—that will keep their brains busy long enough so you can move onto the garlic.
Ready to shop (and chop)? Below are our favorite products and tips to keep your little ones entertained while you're cooking:
Let them help you with the prep work
Easier said than done, but it's possible. Start by handing them an age-appropriate job to do. Ideas can run the gamut from giving them a washing station (a tupperware bowl with soap and water will suffice) to clean the fruit and veggies, to peeling skin off of veggies using a kids vegetable peeler. If they're old enough they might love using a mini tabletop vacuum to remove crumbs from the table and get it ready for mealtime.
The kitchen is a wonderful place for their imagination to soar, and with this play kitchen they can prepare desserts right alongside you. The play oven features two dials with sound effects, two glowing burners, an oven and a cupboard with magnetic doors. You can ask them to "boil water" while you boil yours. Set a timer and have them watch (and count down if they can) to see how long it takes for their water to boil.
Have them help you chop veggies with these wooden vegetables and fruits basket. They can also mix and match ingredients you are using in your recipe or come up with new ones of their own.
Play hide + seek to get them completely out of the kitchen
Any time I need to open the oven to check on something and I notice my toddler is just too close to me, I ask her if she wants to play hide and seek with a toy (pro top: Let them pick the toy). Then I tell her to go into the other room and count to 10—slowly—while I hide Goofy or whoever. The time it takes for her to go into another room, count and then search for her toy buys me enough time to open and shut the oven door safely without having to worry about little arms nearby.
If you don't have the space for a large play kitchen, the baking set is another favored option. It comes with everything needed to make a cake: egg (the wooden egg even cracks open to reveal a felt egg), butter, flour and of course, the mixer. You can walk them through each step and cue them when it's time to add in the next ingredient. If you happen to be baking yourself, call out your steps and have them follow your lead.
Have your kiddos create their own fruits and veggies with this set of dough. This 3-pack features the Dough Parlour's bestselling fruity scents: Grape, Mango and Green Apple
You'd be surprised how much more interested your little one becomes once you bring them up to counter-level. The tower was designed by a Montessori school educator to encourage interaction between kids and parents, and it's smartly made, with a 4-position height adjustment and sturdy build. I'll often give my daughter a bowl and whisk and ask her to mix something for me, and when I'm really low on creativity I've been known to grab a bowl of water and salt and tell her to start mixing.
Sure you can argue that this camera doesn't count as screen-free, but it's a fun way to engage their creative side while you're busy at the stove. Start by showing them how the viewfinder and buttons work, then prompt them to take photos of things in the kitchen. "Can you take a picture of the chair?" Upload them later to review their work.
Keep little hands out of your mixing bowl with these lacing fruits, which also improve hand-eye coordination, promotes fine motor skills and helps expand concentration.
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