This is another of my most googled phrases – especially whenever one of our children is between 1 and 2yrs old and is struggling to entertain themselves. You really do have to cook something at some point so this begins to pose a problem. There’s always the option of popping them on your back in an ergo carrier (my favourite carrier for 9m+) but that doesn’t always keep them entertained enough or – worse – has them fall asleep late in the day and totally ruin any option of you having a quiet evening after bedtime.
I now keep 3 or 4 of the following available at any time. Any older children can be set up with a game / activity elsewhere, and then you set up one of these special activities for your toddler in the corner of the kitchen. These have worked especially well for us –
1. Pompoms and a tube
Use some masking/ washi tape to affix a cardboard tube to the wall/kitchen cabinets. Give the toddler a bowl and a handful of pompoms to post through.Pretty self explanatory – you can pick pompoms up in most craft shops or big supermarkets, or order them here. For older toddlers you could adapt this with multiple tubes if you were feeling particularly fancy..
2. Sensory trays –
AKA a baking tray full of lentils / rice / split peas / pasta and a few tiny bowls and spoons.
I mean, you’ll get your supper cooked but you will have a bit of vacuuming to do afterwards – the trade off on this activity. Toddlers do love it though and it is surprisingly absorbing. You can change it up with different dried foods / a mix of the above / or by adding a funnel or even a cardboard kitchen roll tube for them to post them down. If you are cooking more than one course you could add in some mini bulldozer/ digger/ tractor type toys.
3. A mini car wash
All my children have loved this – as above, your cooking will get done but be prepared for a little extra work in the clear-up. I normally lay a bath towel down, and set up a big tub of soapy warm water. Optional are some dish brushes / cloths. Choose a random selection of cars/planes/etc toys that ‘need’ washing. For extra points, you could have a tray of shaving foam to wash them in pre soaking.
4. ‘Cooking / baking’
I was about to warn you that this requires an extra clean up after your cooking is done but I think by now we can assume that many, if not all, toddler activities essentially cause a mess that you will end up cleaning.
Depending on how close to 1 or 2 they are… I would set up a mixing bowl with some small tubs around of flour/rice/etc. For added authenticity, some weighing scales and a wooden spoon. A small amount of water to bind everything together and they are off.
For older children – and one from my childhood, making ‘dolly soup’ out of the ends of carrots and whatever other vegetables you happen to be using, plus some water and even some herbs mixed in a pan has gone down well with my daughters.
5. My favourite homemade play dough
Actually this one requires very little clearing up…
6. Masking tape train tracks / roads
I tape a big track from one room to another and set up some brio trains / cars / playmobil vehicles to be driven through them.
7. Eat only prepared food
This was a joke – but in all seriousness, some days just aren’t going to work out the way you had planned. It took me a while to realise that this was completely out of my control and even if I had intended to make a really great meal that night, my toddler was in need of some extra attention that day. So, you know, always good to have some frozen pizzas in the house for back up 🙂