Mealtimes can be a marathon with small children, especially anyone under five (which is 100 percent of our kids at this current moment, ha). Our two oldest are coming to the age where they can are readily helpful around mealtime, and are interested in doing it! I love to have their help in the kitchen; they are some of the sweetest moments. They are so extremely obedient, carefully executing each task I give them. And by carefully I mean what one can expect from a three year old with a cup of flour, but generally so sweet.
For my own sanity, I try hard to set aside specific times to have them do the hands-on food helping—preferably baby sis is sleeping and there is soft music in the background and I’ve got a nice lemonade in hand, and we’re making something for tomorrow, etc. But during most meal prep times, where I’m preparing the food we’ll actually eat right now, the kids are still needing tasks that are less hands on with me. So I’ve compiled a few that give them purpose while making our meal times all the more delicious!
Setting the table — Have an area that they are free to grab their supplies from. I realize this comes at different ages and phases based on your child’s development. I’d say my 3 and 4 year old might have been able to handle this for the last six months, but we’ve only started recently. I love this because I get to see how they work together and it gives them opportunity to problem solve. Some highlights have been seeing them think through who gets which color napkin and why, or observing them together come to the conclusion of how to match the napkins to each person’s plate.
Flowers and decoration — I haven’t experimented much with this but I would say we’ve done it a handful of times. We have quite a few blooms in the backyard depending on the time of year, so allowing the kids to head out and pick some different flowers and greens for the table is a fun way to see how they express themselves! It’s not completely autonomous; ie flowers need cutting so which spot on the stem, how many, etc. But there are enough, they can sort of freely pick from without too much fuss. I also have plans to work on a basket of decor (with the kids!) so we have an easy stash of fun garlands or coasters to grab from while setting the table.
Food preparation — as I mentioned before, this is my learning curve here. We don’t have excessive amounts of space in the kitchen so any prep needs to be calculated, and I always need to make sure it’s something slower that we can actually do together, rather than an extravagant meal that I need to have my eye on constantly. I have a list of meals to try that are extremely kid-helper friendly (simple fried chicken, for example) and we’ve found a few easy tasks that they’ve loved so far, which helps to meet in the middle of my no fly meal prep zone.
A few friendly tasks: washing fruits and veggies, stirring dry ingredients, strawberry de-stemming, slicing soft foods (with the kid knives we have), putting toast in the toaster, spreading butter, stirring pesto into pasta, or tearing greens, to name a few. Always looking for more!
Clean up — The dishwasher is a great way for the kids to practice putting away silverware or when clean, taking out and stacking their plastic cups in the cabinet! I love this kid-safe DIY cleaning spray from Cleanmama to give them the freedom to spray and wipe the table (and kitchen counters and cabinets!). I also will spray Method all-purpose cleaner on the table and let my oldest wipe it, along with the chairs and highchairs. I’m pretty sensitive to strong cleaners so I try and keep what the kids touch pretty mild. Also, simply bringing all the plates and items from the table to the sink is hugely helpful too!