Stock up on these clever DIY ideas, kid-centric organizing tips, and cute culinary finds. Yeah, they're fun, but even better, they'll inspire your crew to fix their own snacks, help with meal planning and prep, and clean up afterward.
Essentials for Cool Cookery
1. It brands a Domo monster face onto each slice, so this toaster just might encourage kids to make breakfast. Pangea Brands, $39.99
2. A stand with a protective plastic panel saves cookbooks and tablets from spills. And it's great for holding books for read-alouds during meals. Umbra, $30
3. A no-sew homemade apron (see instructions on the next page) and a fancy toque make a sous-chef feel like a top chef. Chef hat: good seeds, $15
4. Let your kitchen assistant serve pet meals, minimizing mess with a special bin and placemat. Placemat, $5; bin, $30, both from Oré Originals
5. Pull up a nonskid step stool to bring workspaces within easy reach. The Container Store, $12.99
3 Make-It-Easy Ideas
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.
How to Make an Instant Apron
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.
Top Drawer Ideas
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
Meal Mapping Center
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.)