By Emily McClements, Contributing Writer
Young kids in the kitchen and saving time in the kitchen are not two things that you usually see together in the same sentence, right?!
I’ll be the first to raise my hand and admit that when my kids are in the kitchen with me that we often waste more time than save.
And yet, over the past six months or so, I’ve really begun to see that with a little teaching, help, direction and then ongoing supervision (while I’m accomplishing other things!), my kids can actually help me with tasks in a way that ultimately saves me time in the kitchen!
They do simple tasks and repeat them often enough that they learn to do them well. And that frees up time for me to work on other things that they can’t really help with yet, so I’m maximizing my time when I would be in the kitchen with them anyway.
Here are 9 ways young kids can help you in the kitchen in a way that can actually help save you time, too!
1. Unload the dishwasher.
Children from a very young age can help unload the dishwasher, especially if they have drawers on their level where they can put the dishes away. My 17-month-old can help unload the top rack of our dishwasher and put the kids’ plastic plates and bowls in the right drawer!
If the cupboards or drawers are too high for them to reach, you could have them unload the dishes onto the counter, and you can put them away as you are able.
Putting away the silverware is also a great activity for young kids to do because it’s like a matching game. They just have to match the clean silverware to the silverware that’s already in the drawer!
2. Load the dishwasher.
Up until a few months ago, I wouldn’t have included loading the dishwasher on my list of chores for kids to help with in the kitchen. But then I watched this video from Montessori on the Double and realized if those girls, who are younger than my older two kids, can do it then of course my kids can, too!
It takes some direction and instruction the first few times, but once they get the hang of it, this is actually a pretty easy task for children to do. I especially like that my kids can clear their place after a meal and put their dishes right into the dishwasher (if they’ve emptied the clean dishes out first, of course).
3. Wash dishes.
While this may end up making more of a mess than actually helping, kids LOVE to play in water, especially soapy, sudsy water!
If you need to work on something in the kitchen that your child can’t really help you with, but they still want to be in there with you, running a sink of soapy water and giving them a few dishes to wash is a great way to keep them happy and entertained for a few minutes.
You may not want to place the “washed” dishes directly back into the cupboard, but they’ll at least be rinsed off well enough that they can go into the dishwasher when your child is done.
4. Make simple foods.
My 6-year-old daughter is very independent and really wants to be able to do her own thing in the kitchen, rather than actually help me. And I’ve been pleasantly surprised over the past few months as I’ve taught her how to make simple foods. She still needs supervision, of course, but she can basically do everything herself from start to finish after I’ve shown her how to do it only two or three times.
Her two favorite things to make are scrambled eggs and avacado dip. And she’s learning how to make a lot of other basic food, which really helps me when I have a lot going on in the kitchen. She can prepare some simple things for herself and her brother and sister.
5. Gather ingredients.
When I’m getting ready to make a recipe, it is really helpful to me to get all of the ingredients out first. My kids help me to gather ingredients from the fridge, like eggs, milk, butter, etc. and my older daughter, who is learning to read, is beginning to be able to help me gather spices from the spice cabinet.
Using a stool, they can also reach the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, etc. out of the baking cupboard.
I’ll read off the list of ingredients, and they’ll gather everything together on the counter for me. And they can also help to clean up and put the ingredients away after we’ve used them, of course!
6. Peel vegetables.
My son absolutely loves to help with peeling vegetables and has since he was 3! He can easily do carrots and cucumbers and can also peel potatoes, but those take him a little bit longer. This is a great motor skill for young kids to master!
7. Empty the compost bucket.
My kids are my compost runners when the weather is nice. I have a countertop compost pail that has a handle for easy transport.
When it gets full, I’ll send one my kiddos out to dump the bucket into the compost pile. They don’t exactly love this job, but I like that it gets them outside and out of the kitchen for a few minutes, and, often, they’ll end up just staying outside and playing!
8. Stir ingredients.
While I’m still not really comfortable with my kids measuring ingredients for things like baking, without my help, they can definitely help by stirring the ingredients in the batter together or even using the stand mixer.
9. Sweep or clean the floor.
If your kids are helping out in the kitchen, the floor might get just a little bit dirty in the process (that might be the understatement of the year!). But you can help teach kids the importance of cleaning up after themselves by having them sweep up their messes.
My kids use a small brush and dustpan, but I would really love to invest in a child- sized broom soon.
Give them a small bowl of water with a few squirts of dish soap and a rag and have them wipe down the floor for you. My kids love this and actually treat it like a game and ask if they can play “Soapy Bubbles” all the time!
Since as wives and mamas we spend a lot of our time in the kitchen preparing healthy food for our family (and then cleaning up after them!), it’s only natural that our young children will want to spend their time in there with us as well.
We have the opportunity to spend quality time teaching them important life skills and the importance of helping out from a young age!