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Cooking, Kids, and Dishes...oh my!

Updated: Jun 19, 2021

If my job was to get healthy, tasty meals on the table, on time, every day...I could do it perfectly.

If my job was to keep the kitchen clean and tidy, dishes washed, floors scrubbed, counters sparkling...I could do it perfectly.

If my job was to take care of three little kids, help them learn and explore, put them down for naps, and make sure they weren't climbing the bookshelves...I could do it perfectly. (ok, ok, maybe not PERFECTLY...)

It's less about these jobs, individually, and more about doing all of them at the same time. That's the hard part, am I right?

Maybe you just have older kids who are capable of safely entertaining themselves, but what if you have a one-year-old daredevil who likes to climb, hates all toys, and prefers to go around licking shoes and garbage cans? While there is no magic tip to make it all run smoothly, there are a couple ways I've been able to maintain a bit of order when I need 20 minutes here or there to clean up, prep, or make food.

- Sensory play in the playpen. The upside to sensory play activities is that they provide really constructive entertainment and are usually a distraction that lasts awhile. The downside is, they also have the potential to make a r e a l l y big mess. The playpen is a fantastic spot to facilitate these special activities! I love that it's contained, and it's easy to move around, so I can have my little one nearby (often right in the kitchen with me!) so I can interact with him. Plus, I've found that even smaller items, like dried beans or peas, aren't too difficult to clean up if you do it the right way. Take out the hard, sturdy bottom, and let the items fall to the soft material on the bottom of the playpen. From there, it's a LOT easier to brush it together so that it accumulates in one space and scoop it out, with a spoon or your hand. That might sound's a bit hard to explain. But go take a look at a playpen and you'll understand what I mean (or check out my reel on Instagram demonstrating it here). My favorite things to use for this are aquarium/plant pebbles, pom-pom balls, and dried beans. Obviously, it's important to make sure that the items are age-appropriate and won't present a choking hazard. I usually use pom-poms for my one year old. He's a lot less likely nowadays to put things in his mouth, but I also keep him nearby (as mentioned) so I can monitor. Pebbles are a good idea for kids a little three-year-old loves to play with them. Kitchen-set toys provide some good additional items to play with, but I also like to get some fun real-kitchen utensils (like a whisk and a silicone basting brush) and let the kids play with them. They feel "special" and unusual, and it really helps to extend their contentedness.

- Frozen peas. My kids have all loved to eat frozen peas, but they can also be a fun game for little ones! I will take two small cups or bowls and a spoon, place them and some peas on a highchair tray, and let my little guy have at it. Sometimes he eats them. Sometimes he scoops them. Sometimes he dumps them out and then, one by one, replaces them. Sometimes he throws them all on the floor. The best part? Peas are pretty cheap, and they clean up so easily. Just sweep them up! - Dot stickers. They are my new favorite thing. I use them ALL the time with my kids. While my older ones can spend a considerable amount of time coloring pictures, my one-year-old will end up eating or wearing whatever medium I give him. Enter, dot stickers. I cut a small portion of a sheet off for him, color a few lines on a piece of paper so it looks interesting, and let him try to peel the stickers off and put them on the paper. Or his face. Or his arm. Or the tray.

- Baby wearing. I cannot overstate how helpful it is to be able to wear him when NOTHING ELSE WILL DO. Sometimes they just want to be close, and wearing them (when they are larger, on your back) helps them feel "held" while also freeing you up to get something done. Even though older kids are a lot more independent, sometimes they need a little extra attention while you also need to be chopping vegetables. There are plenty of ways to give them some oversight, too!

- Play a game! Games like "I See A Color" or "20 Questions" take no supplies but can be entertaining and fun. We've also made up stories, rhymes, or silly songs together. - Have a dance party. Turn on some music, and sway side to side while you wash dishes and they dance around like crazy people. Sometimes, moving some furniture (like chairs, or a coffee table) can provide a "dance floor" that feels a bit special AND might give them more room for their antics. (It's really cool how shifting something normal or changing some small part of the environment can add a layer of intrigue for little ones!) - Involve them! My kids love to "help" wash dishes or set the table. Could they peel carrots? Maybe the vegetables are too hard for them to chop, but what if they made a fruit salad for dessert? Berries, bananas, and oranges are fantastic textures for little fingers and kid-friendly knives to chop up!

- Send them on a treasure hunt. I've made many dinners while also conducting Very Important Top Secret Treasure Hunts. Bonus; it's basically school. Pick a topic. Need to review colors? Have them stand at attention for their mission, and give them a color. They can run and find an item of that color. Have them line their collections up on a table, or gather them in a bowl, so you can tell them how brilliantly they did at the end. What about numbers? Give them a certain number of items to find. Letters? Tell them to find something that begins with "b". With just a tiny amount of mental energy on your part, you can facilitate a learning activity AND get a meal on the table. It's a win/win.

Nothing is going to make running a household and caring for little ones, at the same time, easy. But sometimes, the right technique can make it a little more pleasant for everyone involved.

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