The best family memories start in the kitchen. Help your children learn to love the room that's the center of the home.
1. Reuse-Your-Napkin Rings
Give table-setting a twist with this personalized project that saves money and trees. Have each family member make a unique napkin ring out of colorful wooden beads strung onto a pipe cleaner. Then everyone can claim and use his same cloth napkin for a few meals (or until it gets yucky). To make their rings even more distinctive, kids can add charms or key-ring danglers to their creations.
2. Kids' Pantry
Set up an easy-to-reach space where kids can find their own snacks, and you'll encourage independence while still controlling what they're eating. Divvy up munchies into small containers, such as these 8-ounce Ball plastic freezer jars ($4.99 for three), which are simple to open. Use this spot to stash self-serve dishes, cups, and silverware, too.
3. Photo-Finish Dishwasher Magnet
Teach your family to flip this fun magnet whenever they unload (and teach them to unload, too!). To make one, stage a silly before-and-after photo shoot. Add dirty and clean captions with photo-editing software (we used Picasa). Print your shots, glue them to card stock, then stick the card stock to an adhesive-backed magnetic sheet. If you like, cover the photos with a protective layer of clear Con-Tact paper or packing tape.
This little number needs no sewing, and it's spill-resistant, too!
You will need:
18- by 24-inch coated cotton fabric or oilcloth
2 yards cotton twill webbing
1. For a pattern, draw the apron shape (shown at right) on the wrapping paper and cut it out. Hold it up to your child to check the fit of the arm curve and the apron length.
2. Trace the pattern onto the fabric with the chalk. Cut along the lines.
3. Punch holes where shown. Add lengths of webbing for the neck loop and waist ties, knotting them near the holes.
Trim the webbing as needed.
The right tools can help kids get comfortable in the kitchen. Look for products that are scaled for children (like the spoon and fruit baller, at right, part of a six-piece set of kid-safe fruit and veggie prep tools) or for unbreakable items that pile on the fun factor, such as the chopsticks-and-spoon combo, which is definitely the coolest new eating utensil since the spork.
Some of our favorites:
Handy Tongs, Streamline Inc., $15.19
Bamboo Mixing Spoons, good seeds, $7.50 for the set
Cookie Cutter (part of a set of three shapes), OXO, $7.99
Soft Spoon (part of a set of six tools), Curious Chef, $19.13
Bottle Opener, Streamline Inc., $14.19
Collapsible Funnel, Streamline Inc., $14.19
Chopstick Spoon, Koziol, $6.95 for a set of two
Stackable Measuring Cups, Umbra, $10
Garlic Peeler, Siliconezone, $7.99
Fruit Baller (part of a set of six tools), Curious Chef, $19.13
Planning dinner becomes a family affair with this setup, hung inside a cabinet or closet door. Clipboards hold a universal grocery list (make your own or go online to find one; they're even available for specific diets and food restrictions) and a weekly menu tracker. Below the clipboards, hooks and loose-leaf rings hold take-out menus, a simple recipe finder, and a coupon keeper.
Grocery checklist: Train your crew to mark items on here as they use them up.Recipe finder: When you try a recipe that's a winner, jot down its name and where to locate it (cookbook? Pinterest? website?) on a hole-punched notecard, then slip it on a ring. Now it's easy to flip through favorites and plan out the week's meals.Coupon keeper: Collect clippings in a pouch that can be grabbed when you're headed out on a shopping run.Take-out trove: Punch holes in menus from local spots and hang them on a loose-leaf ring. Dial in dinner when everyone needs a night off!Menu tracker: Jot down upcoming meals for the week here, so everyone knows what's for dinner. (Let the kids flip through the Recipe Finder, and pick a few.)