We moms always have a lot on our plates.
One that I struggle with is balancing the need to cook for my family with the need to slow down and teach my little ones how to cook, and then the need to do silly things with them and play and read books and help with homework.
It feels like there’s never enough time in the day!
My quick tips today are designed to help you integrate your kids into the kitchen to accomplish goals one and two: with a little investment, you can teach your children skills, spend time with them, and get the return on investment of kids who can actually help in the kitchen without you having to micromanage. (Check out this video of my 5yo making mac and cheese in the Instant Pot pretty much on his own!)
A kitchen that is organized to be kid-friendly is the first step.
Making a Plan for Kitchen Space to Fit Kids
How you get kids into the kitchen depends largely on 3 things, in my opinion:
- Your desire to do it
- A little forethought and organization
- Making a plan and sticking with it
Your children are individuals, so your approach to training them in household tasks needs to be as well. It’s really up to you to decide what your kiddos can handle, what you can handle, and what goals to set.
My job is just remind you to set goals and be cognizant about them.
Today I’m going to take some of these quickie kitchen organizing tips and adapt them for a kid-friendly cooking space.
1. Put supplies the kids can use down low.
Whether you have a “kid cupboard” like we do or just rearrange some normal stuff to get it lower but still organized in categories the way you like it, take a walk around the kitchen with this thought in mind:
What do my kids use often, either to eat or to prepare food, that they can’t reach?
At our house we have a whole shelf of kid dishes, which means my kids can get their own dishes, help set the table easily, and unload the dishwasher. They know how to sort silverware starting at a very young age, which is a huge help.
We also have a “breakfast/trail mix” cupboard, with some of the dry goods they use most often accessible to them:
If you have something clever your kids can make often, like these easy kid-made mason jar lunches, consider how to get those items in lower cupboards as well.
2. Set up kids to work at the table.
The kitchen table is shorter so the kids don’t have to stand on chairs, plus they’re out of the way of the chaos and jostling for elbow room if you have a smaller kitchen.
For me, the most important reason to allow kids to have their work station at the table is simply that they are able to get at an appropriate height to see what they’re doing and have leverage. Whether cutting or stirring, they need to be up above the food. Medium-sized kids stand at the table; smaller children kneel on a chair.
3. Think outside the dinner.
When kids ask to help and you’re not prepared for it, there are usually 2 (negative) outcomes – especially if you must have dinner ready at a certain time and can’t slow down:
- You gruffly scoot the kids out of the kitchen with apologies and wish you had another option.
- You let the kids help and get frustrated because they’re too slow, and the experience doesn’t end up to be positive for them. 🙁
If your kids have a few skills though, you can set them up (at the table!) making a snack for the next day – this way they are still helping but not slowing down the official dinner train. We’ve taught even our preschool kids to make 10 snacks on their own!
Take the My Kid Made This Photo Challenge!
To motivate us parents and celebrate a month of welcoming our kids into the kitchen, I’ve put together 9 easy-to-make recipes that are available through your Plan to Eat account. Make any one of these recipes with your child, post it to the PTE photo contest, and you could win a $259 prize package!
Before September 30th, take a photo of the recipe you make with your child and post it on Plan To Eat. Starting October 1st get everyone you know to vote for your photo. On October 13th the two entries with the most votes will be announced. Prizes include a $100 Amazon gift card!!
Are you ready for the challenge?
You’ll love the 10 healthy snacks kids can make that you get for signing up!
4. Make your drawers compartmentalized.
If kids have trouble finding things they need in the kitchen, you have to stop what you’re doing and get it for them. #nogood
Plus, if kids “dig through” a drawer to find the thing they need, they might win that battle but now we’ve got a #madmom problem the next time you look in the drawer-of-chaos!
The pic above is from Bethany’s great post on streamlining your kitchen organization – it’s good for big people too!
Here’s another example of separating – it doesn’t have to cost a lot either, especially if you’re trying to use less plastic with your food. It’s the perfect repurposing job for plastic leftovers containers!
My organizer friend Andrea recommended other repurposing options when she visited my messy, hopeless kitchen:
- shoe boxes
- clamshell berry or lettuce containers (cut off the top)
- even cereal boxes cut down to size can store upright lids
It doesn’t have to be pretty, just functional – and you can label all those things for the kids without worrying about mussing up pretty (expensive) baskets! 😉
5. Label things so kids can find/put away
Speaking of labels, if you really want to give your kids independence – and get help unloading the dishwasher while ALSO being able to actually find things later – it’s worth making your kitchen look like a preschool classroom, at least temporarily until they all learn the ropes.
Check out this brilliant and simple solution from Lori when she put a new chore plan for her kids into action:
If you can’t quite tell what’s going on, she snapped pics of the drawer/cupboard contents and affixed them to the outside. That has to increase her chances of getting each space back to the way mom wants it!
6. Create zones for kids
When Lori tackled that “I will have my kids do chores!” mission, she also assigned lunch packing to her kiddos, who were both school-aged at the time. They could reach the bottom shelf above the cupboards, so here are all her lunch supplies:
When I reorganized my own kitchen, I got all the lunchboxes and water bottles in one deep drawer so that kids can easily get out their own AND put them away after school, a responsibility that is part of our normal routine. It doesn’t LOOK that organized, but kids can reach it and that’s what matters!
We also do have all our lunch packing containers in one general area, near the fridge, so that lunch packing is always streamlined to one space.
What “zones” might you create for tasks your kids do regularly?
7. Little ones need space too
If you’ve had toddlers and bigger kids at the same time, you know how it feels when you’re trying to let the big kids be involved in the kitchen and allllll the littlest one wants to do is HELP too!
As much as I think my toddlers are cute, they usually sabotage the entire experience for the rest of us. Getting them set up with a pouring work or one of these tasks for toddlers in the kitchen is golden.
But What Can Your Kids DO in the Kitchen?
That of course is another post entirely, but if you head over to our “What Kids Can Really Do in a Real Food Kitchen” post, you can grab this cute printable (the whole thing) for your kitchen!