10 Ways to Keep Kids Occupied While You Cook Dinner

I know I’m not the only one who’s struggled with trying to keep the kids busy so they’re not underfoot while I’m making dinner. I’ll admit that I’ve turned the TV on more times than I would like just so I wouldn’t have to worry about splattering oil or sharp knives. (Why yes, I am terrified of dropping a knife on their head… probably won’t happen, but it can stress me out nonetheless!)

So, for your benefit (and mine too), I’ve gathered 10 activities that are easy, self-directed and require little supervision (if any). Hopefully, you’ll find something to make dinner prep a little less stressful!

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1. Use foam shapes to make designs on a window. All it takes is a little bit of water and the foam will stick! This activity is relatively mess free and you can let the kids to work at a window near the kitchen. You can read about our experience with window art here.

2. Listen to audio books. My girls love books and have not yet learned to read. So, I’ll pop in an audio book while I’m cooking and let someone else read to them. The next time you’re at the library, check out their collection of audio books. We’ve listened to everything from the Magic Tree House books to The Cat in the Hat and Other Dr. Seuss Favorites. It’s fun and a great way to wind down before dinner.

3. Let them play with quiet books. There are so many amazing quiet book ideas. If you’re crafty, make one yourself. This one from Serving Pink Lemonade is wonderful and there are tons of ideas on the blog How to Make a Quiet Book. If you’re not crafty, Etsy has many, many pre-made ones you could buy.

4. Play Follow the Leader. It’s an easy game to play, the kids won’t need your help, and they’ll have tons of fun. Perfect, right! Here are some fun versions of the game we came up with.

5. Play with play dough. Bring it to the kitchen table and let the kids play while you cook dinner. Add a rolling pin and some cookie cutters and your kids will be occupied nicely the entire time you’re cooking!

6. Make sticker scenes. Give your kids some stickers and papers and you’ll have a mess-free craft project for them to do while you cook. Plus, they’ll get the added benefit of working on those fine-motor skills. To make it even more fun, Let’s Explore uses landscape photos for making cool sticker scenes.

7. Play a matching game. Matching games are simple to set up and easy for the kids to work on by themselves. Our butterfly matching game using paint chips was easy to make. The Adventures of Bear has some fun letter matching games that are easy to make as well. Have a selection of matching games and you’ll always have something for the kids to do while you’re making dinner.

8. Put paint in a resealable bag for mess-free art. It’s mess free and fun. Mama Smiles shows you how to do it in this post.

9. Give them a dust rag. Yes, I’m serious. Have the kids clean while you cook. My girls love it when I hand them a dust rag. They’ll run through the house dusting everything they find (even the cat). Wordplayhouse has a wonderful post about involving your kids in cleaning.

10. Get out the Legos. Despite their young ages (2 & 4), my girls will play for a long time with our Duplos. Give the kids some free play time with their Legos and you’ll have some peace and quiet to make dinner. Or, you can challenge them with this fun Lego Challenge game from Quirky Momma Kids Activities Blog.

*Bonus activity: Let the kids help! Instead of sending the kids away, get them involved. They can stir, pour ingredients, or even cut some vegetables or herbs (like scallions) with kitchen shears or a vegetable peeler. I know not every meal is a good one for kids to help with. But, when you can, involve them. Help them take ownership over the food you’re eating.

Do you have any good tips for keeping the kids occupied while you cook dinner?

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Terri is a writer and mom of two elementary-aged girls. She has a passion for learning and is always looking for ways to make learning fun. You can find her here writing about fun learning activities, art, craft, and family fun ideas.

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