What Do Your Kids Do While You Are Making Dinner?! – Reader Question

by Erin, The $5 Dinner Mom on April 28, 2011

A common question that I get from friends and family, and also from Renee…

What do your kids do while you are making dinner?

Here are a few examples…

(Please pardon the iphone photos.)

They play with little legos.

They play with big legos.

(And no, our playroom is rarely this organized.  We had just had the carpets cleaned…yeah Groupon!…and I had it all picked up and organized when they came. The next morning, this lasted about 11 minutes. As soon as that tower was knocked down, it was all downhill for the organized state of the playroom.)

They color at the kitchen counter or at their table in the playroom.

They play trains. They work on puzzles. We play spelling and word games.

Ryan reads his school reader.

Charlie challenges himself with puzzles.

And Tyler is normally sitting in his chair at the table, having a small snack or appetizer.  Because if he’s not in his chair, he’s probably off doing something like this!  He is quite the climber and has been named “monkey boy,” as I don’t think there is a (3 foot off the ground) surface that he hasn’t figured out how to climb on top of. I’m waiting for the day when I find him on top of the fridge. I wouldn’t put it past him!

And now I’m going to find some lead weights to attach to his shoes…although I don’t think that will stop him!

What do your kids do when you are cooking dinner?! How do you cope with the so called “witching hour” of 4-6 pm?! What constructive activities do you get them working on so you can focus on getting them fed?!

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Stephanie April 28, 2011 at 8:03 am

I have a few strategies. My kids are allowed very limited TV/computer time, and sometimes I “schedule” this to coincide with when I make dinner. Another is that they play the clean-up game while I cook, which involves me setting a timer for a few minutes and giving them a challenge to complete within that time (do you think you can put ALL the legos back in the bin in 3 minutes?). Repeat with a few different challenges and you end up with a clean(er) house and dinner in the oven. Sometimes I give them prizes (a cookie which can be eaten after dinner), sometimes it’s just a fun challenge.

When we buy a house I’ll be looking for one that has an open floor plan downstairs so that the boys can color/do homework/etc. while I cook. Right now there isn’t really anywhere for them to be in the kitchen except underfoot!

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Kimberly W. April 28, 2011 at 9:02 am

I love the clean-up game idea! I may steal that one. :)

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LisaE April 28, 2011 at 8:17 am

My 2 girls are older now but when younger, they always did their homework or read at the table while I was making dinner-this way, if they needed help I was right there. Some nights I never thought dinner would get finished I had to stop so often;)

If they didn’t have any homework I still had them read-sometimes comic books or something other than a “book book” to keep them interested. I even had them take turns reading a fun book on those nights.

OR….I let them simply draw or make a craft of some type as long as it didn’t mess up the kitchen table too much before dinner.

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LifeAsAMomma April 28, 2011 at 8:53 am

Daddy gets off work at 4:45, which is when I usually start supper. So he spends time with them while I cook!

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olivia April 28, 2011 at 8:57 am

Where does one get those huge legos at? I have never seen them?

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Erin, The $5 Dinner Mom April 28, 2011 at 3:19 pm

They were a gift from my dad to the boys…let me see if he remembers!

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Kristine April 28, 2011 at 8:58 am

My kids are 1 and 4. No matter why I try to do they end up pulling on my legs in the kitchen while I’m cooking! Sometimes the 4 year old can entertain himself, but I have to do the high chair/snack thing with the baby. If my husband can take them outside it is a GLORIOUS day! :)

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Maggie April 28, 2011 at 9:01 am

depends on the day…. sometimes tv time coincides, or they are sent to play in their room, or clean up their room… but if its nice outside I send them out to play. Sometimes my older one is finishing up his homework, and on occasion I get a helper. The helper usually sets the table, get out the condiments or fetches something from the hutch (I dont have a pantry, but same difference). Every day is different here :)

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Nicole April 28, 2011 at 9:08 am

Dinner in my house is typically made with the baby on my hip and the 2 year old hollering about something :) It really is the toughest time of the day! Any ideas on what to do with a younger baby (5 months)? If I do happen to have my hands free from the baby I’ll have my toddler ‘help’ me with dinner. When I cut the veggies I’ll put the scraps on the counter and have him put them in the compost bowl or let him help stir things.

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Heidi April 28, 2011 at 9:10 am

When my kids were little it was a challenge. If you have more than one, they can often play with each other. You could save certain baskets to bring out just during dinner prep time, like a wooden train set, puzzles, playdough, etc.

Now I try to get them to cut up something for me or stir a pot while I do something else. I have 2 kids that love to cook but not always when I am in the kitchen. The times I get to cook with my kids are great. I don’t get lonely and they can contribute to the family this way.

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Robin April 28, 2011 at 9:28 am

My 7 week old baby pretty much sleeps and my five year old can usually entertain himself, but by late in the afternoon, he pretty much stays in trouble. If Daddy comes home to a mess or artwork where it’s not supposed to be (drawings on the carpet, etc.) I just smile and say “supper will be ready soon.” Everyday is an adventure with little ones!

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Susan April 28, 2011 at 10:44 am

I had luck with a play kitchen when the boys were younger. They would cook along side me, making similar dishes.

Now, I alternate strategies. Distraction (tv or pc), cleaning missions, co-cooking (with only one child), and homework all fit into the rotation. I generally put some cut up fruits and veggies (whatever I am cooking) out for eager snackers. I also send the kids on errands… Can you get a can of peaches from the pantry? Can you put this in the trash for me?

Now that they are older, it’s easier. They’ve figured out that misbehaving while I cook means I have no time to make dessert!

My best suggestion is to avoid the witching hour. Prep and assemble what you can when you can manage in small chunks throughout the day.

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Jan April 28, 2011 at 10:49 am

I wish I knew the answer to this other than TV. My daughter is 5 and she will not play by herself.

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mary April 28, 2011 at 3:39 pm

My just-turned-two-year-old cooks with me! He loves it. He mainly plays but just to be standing on a stool next to me, watching what I do is entertaining enough for him. He also helps with laundry and dishes and…come to think of it, all the housework. I learned a while ago that the reason he got fussy with me while I worked was because he was curious about what I was doing…and I wouldn’t let him join in. Once I let him think he was helping me his frustrations went away. Now I praise him a bunch and tell him how big of a helper he is. As soon ad he hears the washer start he comes running to help me load it. I hope he always thinks housework is fun! I think the reason I hate housework so much is because it was a chore…something I HAD to do, not something o GOT to do.

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Ani W April 28, 2011 at 8:48 pm

I agree with this idea, wholeheartedly. I have three little ones and a lot of the time, they play in the living room while I cook, but if they are in the kitchen, I put them to work and they love it. The two oldest are little “gophers” for me or “stirrers”, etc…and the baby just wants to be near all of us, so she is content, regardless. My oldest two are 7 and 3 yr old boys and they LOVE to cook. They are also more apt to eat new things if they help prepare it!

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Shonda April 28, 2011 at 8:55 pm

My kids were like that too…..and I had big helpers for many years, but my girls are now 10 and 12 and I have to beg them to get their chores done – occassionally I can convince one of them to co-cook w/ me though…..my 7 yr old son is still a pretty good helper, so I’m wondering how long that is going to last, too!

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Peggy Clyde April 28, 2011 at 10:20 pm

My kids were either helping me or working at the table. They learned to cook in first grade when they learned to read. I started them out with very simple recipes. I remember years ago when my 2 1/2 year old did climb up to the TOP of the fridge, so keep an eye on him. Thanks for all of your good ideas.

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Mary E.S. April 29, 2011 at 6:43 am

Olivia, I bought the ones my boys have at WalMart.

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Melissa April 29, 2011 at 10:59 am

1. I have a line of painter’s tape the little two can’t cross in the kitchen. It keeps them away from the stove and sink and out of my general cooking area.

2. They can watch, do play dough nearby, paint, or color, which any of that doesn’t last the long for the 2 year old.

3. for the last 30 minutes to an hour (if it’s a bad day), they watch a video. It’s their only video of the day, so they sit pretty well for it. :)

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