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little boy in chef's hat licking the beater from a mixer

It never fails: as soon as I get to a critical part in preparing the evening's meal, my three-year-old needs me. It doesn't matter if the quinoa is boiling over or if the roasting veggies are burned to a crisp; if Owen's fire hat is missing, it needs to be found pronto.

So what do we do in my house to minimize these moments? I don't juggle the potatoes or toss shrimp tails into my chef's hat, but if I have enough energy to be mildly creative, here's what works for us:

  • Let Owen concoct. I give him a bowl and let him use water, flour, and other ingredients to mix his own concoction. And if his super heroes decide to go swimming in it? So what! It is all in good fun.
  • Make pizza. If we are having pizza for dinner, Owen helps roll the dough, put on the sauce and sprinkle on the toppings. You can't have pizza every night, but it is sure to get your kids to want to help in the kitchen.

  • Create Play Doh food. Owen sits at the table or uses a small section of the island, creates "food" with his Play Doh, and serves it to me to eat while I am cooking our real dinner.
  • Help chop the veggies. As soon as he could stand and grasp, Owen was using a plastic baby knife to chop banana while I chopped the veggies for our dinner. He's long since graduated to a butter knife and real veggies, and snitching the healthy chopped pieces is part of the treat.
  • Sit and color. Sometimes, if you can catch him just right, Owen is actually willing to sit and color at the table while I cook. Sitting still is not his strong point, but still this sometimes works.
  • Keep a giant storage container filled with rice, small beans, or peas on the kitchen floor. Owen loves to drive his Bob the Builder trucks in this "construction site" while I am cooking.
  • The Swiffer is better than a magic wand in this house. Cleaning up after this messy chef is a job Owen loves to do.
  • In the ultimate spirit of DIY-ing, tell your kid that the cabinet door needs fixing. If he's like Owen, he'll get his tool belt, tool box, and hard hat and fix that door up in a jiffy.
  • Playing in the sink may be annoying to you, but take a few deep breaths and let it go. Give your child some bowls and let him use the sprayer. Pouring is actually a good motor skill to learn, and you'll get dinner on the table.
  • Even though Owen has a play kitchen that he loves, there in nothing like authentic play. I unplug the toaster oven and let him "cook" some of his wooden play food in it. Oh, and don't forget the oven mitts.
Tip: Don't lose the chef's hat; it really makes things more difficult. Let's not underestimate the power of the six-year-old girl next door coming to play, either. What kinds of things do you do to keep your kids entertained while you put a healthy meal on the table?


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