I don’t know about you, but just before dinner time is one of the toughest parts of the day. Trying to get a meal together while my kids are just DONE and I’m just DONE…is, well, how us moms lose our minds, amiright?!?
I thought I’d share some of my go-to activities that help me get through meal prep. The goal with these activities is that Finn can play by himself with minimal supervision (so, for example, painting/gluing/cutting something would be a big no-no). Also, I try to pick something that he can’t play with ALL the time. For example, he pretty much always has access to his trucks, but he doesn’t have unlimited access to his Play Doh. These activities might give me a solid 15 minutes of (mostly) uninterrupted time to get the bulk of the meal prep done. For most of these activities, I put Finn into his high chair or sit him at the kitchen table so I can keep an eye on him.
1. Play Doh
Oh how I love Play Doh. It’s the perfect sensory, STEAM-related activity while being cheap and easy to manage. I let Finn pick which color he wants to play with and usually he starts out by running his monster truck over the Play Doh. Then he might ask for some supplementary tools/molds. The key for this is to hand them out sparingly. I put the Play Doh tools on the kitchen counter so that I can give him one or two at a time to get him to maximize his play time and not get bored too quickly.
I will say that he did go through a phase where he wanted to eat the Play Doh, and my response to this was to immediately take the Play Doh away for that day. The phase (thankfully) didn’t last very long, and I attribute that to a very swift, very clear response. If he put the Play Doh in his mouth, he could not play with it.
I love to get different Play Doh tools at the dollar store and this year for Christmas, Finn got a really intricate Play Doh firetruck where he can have the Play Doh come through the hose like water or make different fire-related tools on the side of the truck. A big win for us!
I have a drawer in the kitchen for Finn that is stocked with markers and coloring pages. I also printed out these practice letter tracing printables that I laminated so we can just wipe them off when Finn’s done playing with them.
3. Sensory Box
This has the potential to be messy, but as Finn has gotten older, we’ve been able to have clearer boundaries with his sensory play. Right now I keep a water table on the patio (which is just outside our kitchen) stocked with different sensory materials. Right now there’s dry rice and beans, before that we did water beads, and next I’ll probably do kinetic sand. He has a set of small construction trucks and some scooping implements. We have the water table right now, but I’ve used plastic boxes with lids in the past too and just sat him in his high chair to play with them. Every time he plays with the sensory box, we recap the rules: no dumping, and you have to clean up your mess when you’re done. In fact, recently when his cousin came to play and started dumping the water beads out, he ran and got me! His first time ever “telling on” a family member – a milestone of sorts. Ha! It still gets messy (I’m currently regretting the rice/beans decision) but sometimes he’ll play on his own for 20 minutes – which might as well be a lifetime during dinner prep!
4. Water Play (in the sink)
Finn LOVES playing in the sink. We have a step stool in the kitchen that we use for this purpose. I make sure that the water isn’t too hot (or turned up too high) and then set him up with some plastic bowls/spoons/cups and remind him that he has to keep the water IN the sink. This one takes more supervision – I typically stand right next to him and chop veggies while he plays and remind him about the water rule every few minutes or so. He loves to “help” wash the dishes, though he’s usually soaked by the end of the play time!
5. Meal Prep Help
Finn’s in a stage right now where he wants to “help” with everything. He helps me to bring in groceries; scoop and stir ingredients; turn on appliances (like my coffee grinder or food processor) at my instruction. I’ve had him pick herbs off their stems.
6. Food Sensory Play
I’ll put out a few little containers of different smelling foods/spices (in very small quantities) and let Finn smell them, touch them, and taste them if he wants. Recently, we did a food smelling game where I let Finn smell a lemon, cinnamon, coffee, ground ginger and a few other pungent foods and spices. First we smelled them all and identified them, then I covered his eyes and had him guess which one he was smelling. He did much better than I thought he would! And he LOVED it! This one takes more supervision, but it can also be an extension of what you’re already doing with meal prep, and it’s a good way to involve them in what they’re eating.
This is another one of those activities that Finn loves to do but it’s not always accessible (we store the Legos in the closet and bring them out when requested/offered). So it’s more exciting for him that way. We love the Lego Duplo sets – he has a fire truck and airplane set that he loves along with the classic set. I just make sure to tell him that he has to clean them up when he’s done (since we all know how fun it is to step on Legos in the middle of the night!).
8. Painting with Water
I give Finn a small ramekin of water, a paintbrush and some paper and let him “paint” with water.
Well, mamas, I hope this is helpful! Comment below and let me know: what’s your favorite meal prep activity to keep your kiddos occupied so you can cook?