How to Make Dinner with Your Toddler Under Foot
By Hola Isabel
1. Be prepared– Start with a plan.
Know what you’re going to be cooking and make sure you have all your ingredients on hand before you begin. You don’t want to leave your kid to fend for himself while you go looking for the groceries you left in the car last week. In the time it takes for you to run out to your car, your kid could have turned on the stove, or the oven, or even worse, spilled your drink.
2. Keep your kid distracted.
If your child is busy with his own task, he won’t be compelled to “help” you. Try giving your kid an orange and a bowl, set him on the floor and let him spend the next ten minutes peeling and eating the orange. Trust me, this works. (Well, unless your kid hates oranges.) When he’s finished, give him another orange. Rinse and repeat. Other distractions might include playing with your cell phone or giving them an art project to work on. Of course there is always the age old trick of giving your child free range over the pots and pans cupboard. Nothing keeps a kid entertained like an empty stock pot and a wooden spoon.
3. Put your kid to work.
Kids like to “help”. And by “help” I mean, “dude, they are not helping at all!” A long time favorite for parents the world over is to let their kids “help” by setting the table. Known internationally as “scattering the silverware around the table”. They can also help by sorting the noodles. You know, the thick ones from the thin ones. Or the squiggly ones from the curved ones. You could even fill the sink up with sudsy water and bath toys and have them do the “dishes”.
4. Include your kid.
Kids love this step the best. Mostly because it means they get to help you by taste testing that night’s dinner menu. This might mean a little taste of the sauce to see if more salt is needed, or testing to see if the noodles are al dente. (You know, by throwing them at the ceiling.) You might even let them turn the light on the oven and peek through the door to see if the cheese is melted on the pizza.
We all know that kids respond well to praise. Heck, adults respond well to praise too. Make sure you thank your child for being such a good sous-chef. Remind him that you couldn’t have done it without him. Make sure to point out what a good job he did on setting the table. And since he was so good at it, it just might become the one task that you always have him do.
Published October 17, 2008. Last updated July 9, 2018.