Playing with Beans

Keeping Kids Entertained While You Work in the Kitchen

A perfect morning in our kitchen

Written by Emily McClements, Contributing Writer

While it is definitely a great thing for our kids to help us with cooking in the kitchen, sometimes we just may not need, or want, their help, or they may be really too young to be helping. But, we still need a way to keep them happy and occupied while we cook and prepare healthy, real food meals for our family.

Easier said than done, right? I know how hard this can be at times, I have two little ones, a daughter who will be 3 next month and a son who is 15 months, who can make it very hard for me, at times, to get the things done that I need to get done in the kitchen. So, I’ve come up with some creative ways to help keep my kiddos occupied while I cook and prepare food.

Magnets and Games on the Fridge

Kids love to play with magnets and games on the fridge. We have a few of the Leapfrog games with the alphabet and farm animals that help to teach letters and matching, and I’m sure there are lots of other great magnet games out there. I also have all different types of magnets that the kids use to hang up papers or just take on and off the fridge. We rotate the magnet games, and the magnets, to keep things “new” and interesting for them.

Their Own Drawer or Cabinet

It is often a necessity to use drawer and cabinet locks in the kitchen to keep curious little people from getting their hands onto things that they really shouldn’t have. And cabinet latches are a life saver for keeping your kitchen from turning into a complete disaster area when your kids decide to pull everything out of the cabinets.

But, it is really nice to leave one or two drawers or cabinets accessible to kids, when all the others are off limits. You can either make a specific drawer that has certain toys or kitchen items that are purposely there for your kids to play with, or you can keep a drawer that holds items that are safe for your kids to play with, unlatched. I have a bottom drawer that holds my plastic storage containers available for my kids to play with, and they enjoy stacking containers, matching lids to containers, and generally making a big mess of the drawer, which I really don’t mind because I’m trying to move more and more toward using glass storage containers anyway.

al dente

Photo by EvelynGiggles

Pots, Pans and Other Kitchen Items

Oh, how kids love to play with pots and pans and lids! I also keep my cabinet that holds my pots and mixing bowls, and the drawer under the oven where I keep the lids, unlocked and accessible so that my kids can play with the pans and lids. Add a wooden spoon and you got yourself an awesome instrument. They also love to take pans from the kitchen to use for playing in their play kitchen, I guess it makes it feel more authentic or something.

Other kitchen items make great toys as well. Pans, bowls or colanders can be worn as hats for a kitchen kind of dress up game. Kitchen utensils like mixing beaters, wire whisks, and potato mashers are fun to play with. And nesting measuring cups and spoons are also interesting for little ones to explore.

Go to Where They Are

When keeping your kids entertained while you’re in the kitchen doesn’t always work the way you plan, then try taking what you’re working on to them. If you have prep work that doesn’t require the oven or stove, you could probably do it just as easily at the patio table while your children play outside. Or you could sit at the kitchen or coffee table if that is nearer to where your kids want to be playing. If your kids want to be close to you, trying moving your work so you’re close to them.

Playing with BeansPhoto by Live Renewed

Homemade Toys

There are all kinds of great, fun toys you can make from items you probably already have in your pantry. I recently shared all the different types of homemade toys that my kids enjoy playing with on my blog. They are a great creative outlet for kids and help to give you precious uninterrupted minutes to get a few things done in the kitchen.

A Gate

My kitchen has one entrance from the main area of the house and we have a little accordion gate set up so that if I really need to I can close the gate and keep the kiddos out of the kitchen. I really try not to use this very often, but there are times where my toddler just will not let go of my leg and I need to put something in or get something out of a hot oven and it just is not safe for him. So I close the gate and put him outside of it so I can accomplish things that may pose a hazard for my kids. I will also sometimes close the gate when I’m working with raw meat, my kids have been know to pull up chairs and want to dig their hands in themselves.

Independent Playtime

It is great to teach our children to play independently for at least short spurts of time to allow us as mamas time to get things done that we need to get done. At our house, we accomplish this in a few different ways. To begin with, we keep most of our toys out of our main living/playing room and allow the kids to bring toys out from the room where they’re stored one at a time to play with. This keeps them interested and entertained with the toy that they choose and helps them not to get to get bored and overwhelmed with having too many toys to play with at a time.

I’ve also found that it really helps if I spend a few minutes getting my kids set up with playing, and then I can walk away and have a good 15-20 minutes where I don’t usually have to intervene too much. For example, if they choose to play with the blocks, I spend a few minutes with them building towers and knocking them over, and then leave them to build and play on their own. Taking just a few minutes to set them up and get them started and interested in playing really goes a along way in helping them to play independently for a longer period of time.

Whether it’s ideas for involving our kids in cooking, tips for maximizing our time in the kitchen while kiddos are sleeping, or just ways to keep them entertained while we work, as mamas we all need to have some tips and tricks up our sleeves to help us accomplish our tasks in the kitchen.

What do you use to keep your kids happy and occupied while you’re cooking or working in the kitchen?

Top photo by suzettesuzette

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  1. I used a lot of these same strategies when my kiddos were little. I also let them “wash” dishes. There were always dishes to be washed! I would put down a towel on the floor in front of the sink, stand them on a chair and they were set.

  2. My 7 yr old loves to draw, so he will sit at the table w/ lots of paper, pencils, crayons & markers. For my 23 mo old, I have a small spot where I have building blocks, the trains he loves and a few wood toys. These usually keep him occupied long enough but if not, we keep a bag of balloons in a cabinet and I’ll blow one up. He just loves it!

  3. Great post! I found that the most effective thing if I need to get something done without the kids is to set them both up with something seperately. They do not play together well AT ALL. Something we are working on, but its not the time to work on it when I have to get something from the oven etc! My kids are 4 1/2 and 20 months.

    So…for me this means that I set up the oldest with a craft that she can do on her own at a nearby table, or give her a book she hasn’t seen in a while to look at, or something like that. The younger one I like to go grab a toy she hasn’t seen in a while. Something that works really well around here is small (but non chokeable) objects in a bucket with a lid that then she can “sort” into an egg carton! She enjoys little animals and people especially, and also likes berry baskets, yogurt containers, etc. She tends to like REAL things. I tend to give these specific items to her only when she needs to be out of my way.

    When none of that is working, I declare snack time, my kids are always good for eating. LOL This works since the dining room table is right where I am working.

    1. @Marie,
      Yep, I used my sling and Moby Wrap all the time when my kiddos were babies, it is such a great way to keep them happy and close to you, but still get things done in the kitchen and all around the house!

  4. Your kids are almost the same age as mine! I have a girl who will be 3 in January, and a 14-month-old boy. I do a lot of this stuff. There is a container of plastic lids they frequently empty and toss around (much to my husband’s dismay, but what is it hurting?), the pots cabinet is open, and another drawer which contains my cloth shopping bags is open. I also have a “Learning Tower” which they can climb into and “help” me at times. Their playroom is right next to the kitchen so they can play there too if they want. We have a living room that is mostly open next to the kitchen, too, with a projector and big screen (it’s fun!) so if I am REALLY pressed (like, you know, during canning) I will just turn a movie on for them. They love Cars and Toy Story right now. I KNOW it will buy me the time I need if I have an extended project. However I also spend a lot of time getting little chores done while they are having breakfast or a snack and are thus in the kitchen yet contained, lol. It’s tricky, but…you find ways!

  5. My children are grown but from the time they were little until this very day(for the grandchildren now!) I have had a bottom drawer in my kitchen filled with small toys. The toys have kept the children busy when I was busy in the kitchen and even when I wasn’t in the kitchen!

  6. My boys are teenagers now but they loved playing with a large pot of soapy water with an eggbeater, stacking canned goods, a mini rolling pin and homemade playdough, opening and smelling the spices one by one and I always had paper and crayons on hand. Helping to shape breadsticks would also keep them occupied for quite a while. They also mastered the vegetable peeler with potatoes and apples. Now they have no interest in helping in the kitchen. Enjoy them while you can.

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