Assalamu’alaikum & Marhaba!
I find cooking dinner the most stressful part of the day. I am usually rushing so that I can feed the kids, bathe them, and have them in bed early. And most of the time, my kids tend to be the least cooperative at this point. I always aim for it to be their “free play” time with their blocks or legos, but it never seems to go quite as I imagine. Lately, I have been finding ways to get them both involved with special tasks to help. Here are some tips for moms who need to get a meal on the table.
Before my kids could crawl, the bouncer was my best friend, for others it could be the swing, and who knows what other contraptions are out there now. We were pretty tight on money when we had my first, so the only fancy thing our bouncer did was vibrate. Basically, I would make some funny faces, shake the baby toys, bounce it a few times, go back to my cutting board, and repeat until I finished. I pretty much looked like a mad woman running around the kitchen.
After they became more mobile, I kept the cabinets that were accessible baby-friendly with pots, pans, plastic tupperware, empty cans, and anything else that was safe and interesting. For little ones, being in the same vicinity as you may be enough, and other times they may want you to take a five minute break and bang some empty plastic bins with them. You could pop them in the high chair with some yoghurt to make “art” or place water and toys in a bin on a large towel. Sensorial activities for infants are the best distraction, especially in the kitchen where the mess can be easily cleaned.
Other times, if they were particularly clingy, I would just pop them into the carrier and sing or have conversations while cooking. I did my best not to use technology as a distraction, though I was tempted to.
Toddlers & Pre-Schoolers
Once they hit the latter toddler years, it can begin to get a little tough to keep them entertained and out of your way. They are far more curious and want to do whatever you are doing. To solve this issue, I figured why not just let them actually help.
Here are a list of easy and difficult tasks the kids can assist with. You may be surprised by how helpful they can actually be. I know I was!
- Washing spoons/plastic dishes
- Rinsing & scrubbing vegetables and fruits
- Bringing & returning items from the fridge/cabinets
- Using a dull edged knife (kid-friendly) to slice soft fruits/veggies
- Mixing dry ingredients
- Pouring dry ingredients
- Counting ingredients
- Washing dishes
- Pouring wet ingredients
- Mixing wet ingredients
- Mixing food on the stove
- Slicing/chopping with sharp edge
- Using a mortar & pestle
Cooking is a great way to help build vocabulary, math skills, practice fine motor skills, sensorial development, and following directions. Muhammad (23 months) and Layaan (3 yrs, 10 months) learn the names of the different vegetables, ingredients, and kitchen tools in all three languages (English, Arabic, and Urdu). Throughout the cooking process, we pause to feel the texture, note the different colors and smells, and so on. In a fun and practical way, I ask them to count the ingredients, or bring me certain amounts.
Through the real life experience of cooking, we can touch upon a number of skills in a tangible way. This concrete learning will pave the path to more abstract concepts later on. It also teaches them healthy habits, responsibility, and life skills. The added bonus, both my kids are always more willing to eat what they helped me make.
So get cooking, and share your experiences down below!