How To Keep Kids Busy While You Cook

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For those of us with children of a certain age-old enough to walk but still too young to go play video games in their rooms and only interested in what Mommy and Daddy are doing-cooking anytime is a challenge. There is always a tiny assistant at your side, ready to grab hold of sharp knives or plunge their delicate, little hands into pots of boiling water. Thanksgiving, the epitome of holiday eating, then, poses a huge problem. How are you going to cook that giant bird without tarring and feathering your toddler, too? Like most parents, I tried to make the kitchen a safe place for my daughter. The bottom cabinets are a free-range play area, full of Tupperware and plastic plates, and the pantry alone offers her hours of fun, to move around cans of green beans or counting out dried beans. Plus, there are the requisite magnets on the fridge and a tiny broom so she can clean the floor (she still thinks it's a game, sucker!). When I'm making dinner, I often pull her high chair in so she can sit and watch the action with a birds-eye view. From on high, and usually with a mouth full of snacks, she keeps a steady commentary going and I feel like a contestant on Iron Chef. The older she gets the more she wants to "help." And since I don't want to squash that sweetness or cramp her creativity, I am constantly trying to figure out ways for her to be involved that don't end up with me calling for pizza delivery. Especially on Thanksgiving, because I'm pretty sure the pizza place is closed. So here are two of my top T-day strategies: The Fake Bake: Have your kid "bake" with you. In order to bake pie for our Thanksgiving feast (or bake anything for that matter), I got my girl her very own set of wooden spoons, mixing bowls and measuring cups. As I go about my business, I tell her what I'm doing and she mimics along, sifting and stirring and mixing her own "pie." I usually give her a cup of flour and some water so she actually has something to move around in her bowls. (Although sometimes dried beans will do and it's a much cleaner material.) Did I mention this gets messy? Of course it does. She usually slings her "batter" all over the place but clean up is part of the game. You want pie, right? Turkey Hands: Let them have corn two ways. Make a huge pot of popcorn together. Popcorn is such a great snack-it's full of fiber. Plus, it takes forever to eat which buys you lots of time. Take a bunch of clear, disposable plastic gloves (the kind used for food service not for cleaning) and sit your little tike down with the bag of corn. Instruct him or her to fill up the hands with the corn-as many hands as the little one can do. He or she will happily sit and snack and stuff while you brine that bird or sauté your sweet potatoes. When the kid's maxed out, you tie the filled gloves closed with orange thread and bam, instant party favor for your Turkey Day guests. You should, however, probably warn them that there might be a little toddler slime on some of the cutely packaged popcorn. But better that get tossed than the main course. Happy Thanksgiving cooking! Andrea For a great cooking soundtrack to keep your little sous chef occupied, consider these releases. .    .    

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