By the time our meals get prepped, cooked, and cleaned up, much of the day revolves around the kitchen. I can either be there by myself, or I can bring the kids in the kitchen and get them engaged.
I much prefer the latter! If you’re running out of ways to keep your younger kids engaged (and out-of-the-way of the hot stuff), here are some of my favorite ideas.
1. Create a Restaurant
Encourage your kids to bring out some pots, pans, and spoons and “cook” some food on their own. My early elementary and preschool age kids love to do this.
They’ll take my order and then set to work stirring their pretend ingredients together. They dump from measuring cups into a bowl, add some seasoning (with the lids closed), give it a stir, and really get into their prep.
Once they’re finished, they dish it up and we pretend to eat together.
2. Make Salad
When you use pre-washed, pre-cut bags of salad, a young toddler can safely make this side dish. Slightly older kids can easily tear lettuce into a strainer and give it a good rinse. Kids of any age can add baby carrots, frozen peas, dried fruit, croutons, or any other add-in you desire.
To really make this fun, let your child take orders from everyone to create a customized salad bowl for everyone in the family. They can pour dressing into a little condiment cup, just like in the restaurants.
And as a bonus, kids are more likely to eat their salad if they’re the ones who made it!
3. Give Them Some Dough
If you’re making bread, break off a small chunk and let your children play with it. If not, give them a chunk of play dough.
Let them poke it with chopsticks, cut it with butter knives, and experiment with other tools. My two toddlers stayed engaged with dough for over thirty minutes the last time we did this one. They had so much fun trying out different kitchen tools, and making imprints in their dough.
4. Utilize Magnets
Cookie sheets and refrigerators are great canvases for magnets. Invest in a set of ABC magnets, and other fun shaped magnets. Here are some ideas (aff. links):
My kids love to divvy up the fridge magnets and play. They use the animals to create stories, and try to build as many words as they can with the letters.
The fridge is their blank slate for creating, and they love to fill it up with magnets.
Of course you’ll need to make sure your child is old enough not to try to eat the magnet before you try this activity!
5. Make an Instrument
If you don’t mind noise, challenge your child to create an instrument from kitchen equipment. You might have a pan turned into a drum, a set of spoons being played, or rubber bands wrapped around a cracker box.
Anything goes as long as the food doesn’t end up on the floor! Then let your kids serenade you while you finish cooking. You can even give a quick lesson on rhythm and beat and have a sing along to a favorite silly song. If you get a couple of instruments going at once, you’ll have your very own Kids in the Kitchen band!
6. Washing Dishes
Washing dishes is a fabulous way to incorporate sensory play with kids in the kitchen.
Fill the sink halfway with some warm water, and add a little dish soap. Lay a bathroom towel out on the counter next to the sink, to soak up any overflow.
Pull a stool or chair over, and hand your child a rag, and some non-breakable dishes. Encourage him to wash the dishes for you.
While he’s working, there will probably be a lot of dumping water and playing with bubbles going on. That’s what makes this activity so engaging.
Just remember to have your little one help clean up any mess when he’s done. Mopping the floor with towels is fun too! (I love playing the song Scrubbing Day from Pippi Longstocking during this part!
7. Enlist Their Help
Pull up a chair next to your work station and encourage your child to help. If you start young, they’ll quickly learn some cooking skills.
Measuring and stirring are great starting points. Here are some other kid friendly tasks:
- Washing fruits and vegetables
- Getting ingredients from the cupboard
- Being the Chief Taste Tester
- Spreading butter on bread or beans on tortillas
- Setting the table
- Counting plates and forks
- Unloading the silverware
There are plenty of others, so give your kids a couple of tasks and see what they enjoy working on. If they grow up working in the kitchen, they’ll be much more willing when they’re older. 😀
Two of my children love to organize! I put them to work emptying out a messed up cupboard and letting them organize it in a way that makes sense to them.
It normally ends up looking a lot better than it was before they started, even if I don’t know where everything is.
You can also give your kids a bucket of soapy water and a rag and let them wipe the outside of the fridge and dishwasher. The fronts of my cupboards also always seem to need wiped.
My kids enjoy using a spray bottle to get those. I typically just put water in it, so I don’t have to worry about chemicals.
Remember to have a good supply of rags on hand for the kids to dry the surfaces (and floor) when they’re done.
9. Color and Create
If you have enough room, keep some special coloring supplies in the kitchen so your kids can use them. They can pull up a stool and sit down and make place mats for everyone. Or they can just use a coloring book.
Offer them blank paper, and have them draw a picture of what’s for dinner. Older kids can even create fun activities for their younger siblings at the table. They can make:
- Custom coloring pages
- Dot to dots
- A word search
10. Whipped Cream Painting
Clear off a spot on your counter, and pull a stool up for your child. Spray a good-sized ball of whipped cream on the counter, and let her play. She can spread it out, and draw in the cream. Encourage her to write her name, draw a picture of the family, or tell you a story as she paints.
When she’s done, give her a wet rag and have her clean up the mess. Remember whipped cream tends to get sticky when it dries, so you’ll probably want to give the counter a final clean before you’re done!
You can also use shaving cream, though whipped cream has the added bonus of being edible. 😀
How Do You Engage Your Kids in the Kitchen?
Are your kids in the kitchen too? What other activities do you use to keep them engaged? Please share your ideas in the comments!