I visited my 91-year-old grandma Lucille last month. She is in a care center across the state and is starting to forget. As we talked, she drifted between warm, witty conversation and random comments that didn’t make sense. I cried for a long time when I left, knowing this would probably be the last time she knows my name and may be the last visit we have. But she remembered the can opener story. I was so glad.
I don’t know if I remember the event, or if my imagination has supplied the visual to go along with the story I’ve heard so many times, but at one family gathering, she sat me on her kitchen counter and taught me to use a can opener. I’m sure it was a distraction technique to keep an active little girl busy during hectic meal preparation. She said that she showed me how the can opener worked, and then put a big pile of cans in front of me and told me to go at it. A can opener is such an insignificant thing, but it built a bit of the bond between us, kind of an inside joke. At most holiday meals that followed, she brought up that day, and I cherish the memory.
This week, many will spend more time than usual in the kitchen. Many will spend that time with children hanging on their legs, asking to help, begging for tastes, finding all kinds of mischief, and making incredible amounts of noise. A kid in the kitchen can be like the proverbial bull in the china shop, but with a little creativity, you can cook up some memories along with your turkey. Apart from the obvious bowl-stirring and beater-licking, here are a few easy and thrifty ideas to help keep kids busy in the kitchen.
Cup Stacking Champion
Give your child a stack of paper cups, and teach them the art of cup stacking. You can do a simple 5 on the bottom, 4, 3, 2, 1 pattern, or get online and see the crazy sport that cup stacking has become. Let them use a digital kitchen timer if you have one and race the clock and each other. Yesterday, my 4-year-old spend 30 minutes (eternity for him) stacking Dixie cups while I put groceries away.
Even a very young child can combine ingredients. Since Thanksgiving Dinner always seems to be late, have a child make a healthy snack while they wait. You could put cereal, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, and other trail mix ingredients in separate bowls. Let your child mix it up however they want and feel like a real cook.
Dirty Rag Contest
Give each child a sanitizer wipe, or a paper towel sprayed with cleaner. Set the clock, say “Go,” and send them to a room to see who can get their rag the dirtiest. Obviously, this “trick” doesn’t work as well with older kids, but when my kids were younger, they would be so excited to help me clean this way!
Sink and Float
Gather some kitchen utensils and fill the sink with water. Let your preschooler try each item and see whether it sinks or floats. Ask them why they think it did or didn’t float. Some kids can spend hours at this game!
Many people own a kitchen scale for weighing ingredients or for diet programs. Gather random kitchen gadgets, produce, and canned food, and let kids see how much things weigh. Older children can even add up the combined weight of the dish you are preparing.
The Leaning Tower of…Stove Top?
Let them go to town building a town with your stuffing boxes and cake mixes. It’s pretty amazing that kids can create such amazing castles out of cereal boxes!
Send kids on an ABC hunt in the kitchen. They could find letters on packages, or the letter items begin with (A for Apple, B for Butterball turkey, etc.). If they like this, after the alphabet is done, send them to find Pilgrim, Squanto, Mayflower, Plymouth, and Thankful.
Here, Doggie Doggie
Each of my children has spent time on the kitchen floor with a bowl of water and a bowl of cereal “dog food.” They are usually barking and have spots drawn on their faces, or are meowing with whiskers on their cheeks. Amazingly, they have all turned out just fine! Sometimes, when you are tired of the yelling, you’ll take barking and begging hands down.
Attracting some Quiet
If you have a powerful magnet on the fridge, let kids wander through the kitchen and see which things are magnetic. Get excited with them when they discover something.
If all else fails, teach your child or grandchild to open a can of food and then make them feel like they are the most amazing child in the world because they did it.
Tomorrow can be a busy, hectic day for those on kitchen duty. But every day is a chance to make some memories. Hopefully these ideas may inspire some of your own and you can find thrifty, creative ways to keep kids busy in the kitchen. I’m so thankful a busy grandma took time not just to make our meal, but to build our relationship. I hope I can learn from her and remember that food gets forgotten, but memories are forever.