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How to Cook with Kids Underfoot

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How to Cook with Kids Underfoot

Has anyone else ever been in this situation: For once, you are feeling so on top of things! You know what you are making for dinner, you actually have all the ingredients, and you start the prep in time to get dinner on the table before everyone melts down. As you are cruising along in chopping an onion, you suddenly feel a tug at your leg, or a voice calling for help on homework you thought had been completed, or two little voices from the other room escalating in anger and frustration, and all you can think is: “Really?! Now?!” Yup, the kids are underfoot and needing attention just when you need a few moments to get dinner going. It is enough to make even the sanest of parents lose their minds.

So what do you do? Do you let them fight it out and ignore the screams? Tell them to figure out their homework on their own? Shake your leg free of your toddler and tell them to find something else to do? Or do you drop everything and just suck it up knowing that dinner will be late getting on the table again?

How to Cook with Kids Underfoot

Here are some of the tricks I have used with my kids at different ages. I hope that they will help during your dinnertime scramble!


Wear them: I wore both of my sons in a baby carrier while I cooked (and no one ever got burnt or cut). Whether you wear them on your front or on your back, they’ll feel attended to and you’ll get the cooking done.

Baby swings: I used to set ours up in a corner of the kitchen and set it to swing away while I chatted with them or tossed them toys from time to time.

Pots and pans will keep them occupied: Once my kids got a little older, I made sure that I had a cabinet of pots and pans at their level. They would explore it, crawling into the cupboard and pulling discoveries out. Plus the noise was a huge bonus for them (not so much for me, but at least I got dinner on the table)!



Cook together: If you’ve got a real task they can work on that will help with dinner such as tearing up lettuce for salad or washing greens in a salad spinner, great. If not, then just setting them up with some flour and water to stir can help them feel like they are a part of what you are doing.

Water play: I can’t tell you how many hours my two boys spent sitting on the kitchen floor with giant bowls of water. They’d fill them with toys, measuring cups and spoons, other safe kitchen tools, really anything I let them get their hands on, and the only mess made was a wet floor. I considered it a win every time!

Dance party: Crank up the tunes and let everyone be their silliest selves (including you while you cook). It will get the crazy energy out and keep them distracted.

School Aged Kids

Quiz while you cook: Spelling words? Times tables? Practice reading aloud? Rehearsing lines for a play? Guitar practice? We’ve done all of these things while I cook dinner! It is a great way to engage your child around homework without hovering.

Put them to work: A lot of times I have found that the bickering or pleas for help at this time of day are really all about wanting attention from a parent, so I often invite them into the kitchen with me to help make dinner. It is a great way to get the tasks done a little faster and spend quality time together.

Encourage them to figure it out themselves: At this age they are much more independent and when my hands are covered in dough or dirty from handling raw meat, they just have to figure it out for themselves. And they do.

Do you have tricks for keeping your kids occupied during dinner prep? Share your ideas in the comments!

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