Spending quality time with your children doesn't have to be a prescheduled affair in a museum or art center -- you can both have lots of fun right in your own kitchen! At first, you'll need fun activities to keep your toddler busy while you fix dinner. But as your child gets older, he'll be a great kitchen helper, and everyone will feel like a team working together. Use meal preparation time to share experiences, talk about your day, and stay abreast of what's happening in your child's life. The kitchen will quickly become a hub of family closeness, and mealtime can turn into a smoothly run team effort.
Before you get started, it's important to make sure your kitchen is a safe place for little ones. Naturally, electrical outlets should be covered, but what about the rest of the fascinating, yet dangerous areas of the kitchen? Here are a few tips:
- Store glass items high and out of reach.
- Follow the safety rules for selecting and storing potentially poisonous household cleaning products.
- Keep knives and other sharp instruments in drawers with safety latches.
- Use the back burners on your stove whenever possible, and turn pot and pan handles inward, away from the edge of the stove.
- Keep a fire extinguisher handy.
- Never stir or carry hot foods while holding your baby.
- Most important, stay aware of where your child is and what he's doing at all times.
Under age 3
Tots this age are happy playing with measuring spoons, banging on pots, and "stirring" things. Provide your toddler with a child-size workspace and utensils to "work" with. The amount of time it takes a toddler to sweep the floor with a whisk broom can give you just enough time to whip up a salad for dinner.
Ages 3 to 5
Preschoolers love to help out, and you may soon begin to count on your child to put napkins on the table, set out condiments, and lay out silverware while you concentrate on getting the food ready. Preschoolers are capable of doing much of the preparation of foods prior to cooking. Tearing lettuce for salad, snapping string beans, or arranging freshly cut fruit on a platter will make your child feel like he's really contributing to the household. Don't let them work with meat or poultry, however -- raw meats can contain salmonella or other bacteria, and it's too easy for a tot to put his hands in his mouth or touch household surfaces and spread the bacteria before you can wash him up.
Ages 6 to 10
School-age children may be your greatest ally in the nightly race to get dinner on the table. Kids this age can pare vegetables with a peeler, completely set the table, take out the trash, be the refrigerator "go-fer," and speed up the entire process. They can also wash dishes and sweep floors, and some children are mature enough to use the microwave oven with supervision. Other activities include shucking corn, using a rolling pin, mixing and stirring, spreading peanut butter or cream cheese with a spoon, measuring ingredients, washing vegetables, toasting bread in a toaster, and cracking eggs.
All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.