Today’s Guest Post comes to us from Casey Slide with Money Crashers. She shares with us the tips and tricks on getting dinner done with little ones. I think all of us can read this and nod our heads as we can all relate. I love her tips and especially the one on Fridge Phonics. That’s my son above when I first started this website and I kept him entertained with Fridge Phonics so I could cook!
18 Tips for Cooking Dinner While Entertaining Young Children
Before I had children, I loved to cook. Every day I arrived home from work mid-afternoon and had hours to do whatever I wanted, which included making a wholesome, gourmet meal for dinner.
All that changed when I became a parent. With a baby on my hip and a toddler at my feet, cooking dinner became a tiresome chore. I am out of energy from chasing after my toddler all day long, and I struggle to prepare a meal while my child begs for my attention.
Over time, I started to dread cooking dinner, and I knew it was time to make a change. I devised several foolproof ways to make meal preparation easier while keeping my kids entertained.
Family meal planning ideas can help you successfully and easily prepare meals. By setting a weekly schedule and planning how and when to prepare your meals, you can reduce the amount of time spent in the kitchen.
Here are 6 tips for planning your meals and reducing preparation time:
1. Utilize a Crock-Pot
I absolutely love cooking with a crock-pot, and I use mine several times each week. My crock-pot gives me complete flexibility for meal preparation. I can make dinner the night before, early in the morning, or during the day while my son plays with his toys.
2. Prepare Meals in Advance
I like to make meals and freeze them. This allows me to have healthy, homemade dinners available whenever I am unable to cook. You can easily accomplish this task when you double a dinner recipe. One prepared meal goes into the oven, and the other meal goes into the freezer.
3. Do the Prep Work in Advance
I do my prep work for meals ahead of time. If I make a dish that calls for chopped onions and green peppers, I do the slicing and dicing whenever I have a free moment, even a day or two before I plan to cook the meal. Then, I store the chopped veggies in a sealed container in the fridge.
4. Budget Your Time
Consider how long it takes to cook a meal. Don’t cook a meal that takes hours to make when you are home alone with your kids. Save those dinners for a time when you have some help at home. I try to stick to easy meals that I can whip up in 20 minutes or less, like casseroles.
5. Cook During the Kids’ Nap Time
If your children still take naps, prepare your meal during that time. I always do some prep for dinner during nap time, even if I just gather my ingredients, organize my pots and pans, make a salad, or chop vegetables.
6. Start Early
If I make something that has several steps and should take 20 minutes, I break up my cooking into separate sessions. I might start cooking at 4 p.m. and do the first step for 5 minutes. Then I start step two at 4:30, cooking for another 5 minutes. I squeeze in a couple more 5-minute sessions to have dinner ready by 5:30.
My 20-month-old son gets really excited when he can play with something set aside for special occasions. A unique item grabs and keeps his attention. Your children will look forward to special activities and playing with toys while you cook, making the time more enjoyable for both of you.
Here are 6 fun ideas for kitchen playtime:
1. Play with Pots and Pans
The kitchen has many fun things to play with including pots, pans, bowls, measuring cups, and wooden spoons. Gather all the safe items your kids can play with and put them in a bottom cabinet as far as possible from the oven.
2. Play with Food
If you make a rice dish, put some uncooked rice on the floor for your kids to play with. You can also give your kids uncooked pasta or flour. Children have a lot of fun with these textures, sights, and smells, and can stay occupied for some time.
3. Play with Play-doh
I don’t give my son Play-doh all the time. This special toy only comes out when I cook. Play-doh is a safe, inexpensive toy for youngsters, but you can also make it using ingredients found in your kitchen.
4. Play with Refrigerator Magnets
I don’t have a magnetic fridge, as I purchased a new stainless steel refrigerator when I remodeled my kitchen. Instead, I let my son play with fridge magnets that I have placed on a magnetic white board. He particularly loves playing with LeapFrog Fridge Phonics educational magnets.
5. Play with Crayons or Paints
Many toddlers have just started coloring and painting. You can use your cooking time to let your kids practice their creativity in their high chairs. Not all toddlers enjoy this activity, but many forget they are strapped in once they get a hold of a crayon.
6. Play with a Toy Kitchen
If you have a spacious kitchen, consider buying a little play kitchen for your children. Your kids can imitate all the steps you take to put together a meal and you can work on your “meals” side by side.
When All Else Fails
In some instances you cannot plan ahead of time, and other times, nothing seems to satisfy your kids except for your full attention.
Some tips to quickly prepare dinner when you are unprepared and need to get your fussy little one to bed include:
1. Take Your Child to a Friend’s House
I have a friend who lives a few houses down from me who has a little boy about my son’s age. When I have had a long day, I call her to see if we can send our kids over for some playtime. Not only does this give me time to get dinner ready, it also helps improve my son’s mood.
If you can work something like this out with a friend, consider cooking a double batch of food and splitting it between the two families, to thank them for their assistance.
2. “Wear” Your Baby or Toddler
This is not always appropriate depending on what you are making, but when it is appropriate, it can be very beneficial. Use a baby carrier, wrap, or sling to literally “wear” your child around the kitchen to free up your hands. I found this worked best when my son was less than 6 months old because he did not want to “help.”
3. Get Your Toddler Involved
You may think that there is not much for a toddler to do in a kitchen, but you’d be surprised. Your toddler may be able to help pour ingredients into a bowl or do some stirring. Just have patience and be prepared for a little bit of a mess when cooking with kids!
4. Let Your Child Watch
If your toddler is not ready to help with the process of cooking, let him or her watch. I was really surprised to find that my son pays close attention when I show him and tell him what I am doing while cooking.
5. Talk to Your Child
Sometimes all your wild child needs is to hear your voice, and to know that he or she has your attention. You can also try to stretch your vocal chords and sing to your child. Better yet, sing with your child. If you can sing a few silly songs while you cook, it may be just enough to keep your kids engaged, safe, and out of your way.
6. Provide a Snack
Sometimes my child acts up while I am cooking dinner because he is hungry. While at some point he needs to learn how to be patient, my son is a growing boy who sometimes cannot wait until dinner is ready. In those instances, I provide healthy and nutritious snack, such as grapes.
It can be a challenge to accomplish anything while caring for a toddler, especially cooking in a kitchen where children could get in the way or get hurt. Your children’s safety should come first, and it is important to ensure that your children stay away from the oven and any sharp objects. If you don’t think you can keep your children safe while you cook, then they need to stay out of the kitchen, or you need to find a way to cook while someone else supervises them.
How do you cook meals while entertaining your baby or toddler?
Casey Slide is a stay-at-home mom who lives near Atlanta, Georgia. In addition to cooking and caring for her young son, she contributes her best tips for home improvement and personal finance on Money Crashers, one of the top financial sites online.