Sometimes even getting in the door is an accomplishment.

How to Keep Kids Busy While Making Dinner

by Susan Rickey

You are rushing in the door with groceries in one hand and your toddler in the other hand. Your family is hungry and dinner is not in the crock pot. Some people with toddlers call this pre-dinner hour "unhappy hour." It's been a long day and the pit in your child's stomach is making her a little grumpy. You can get dinner on the table if you only could get 20 minutes. Keeping your toddler busy for these 20 minutes is your goal.

Designate a low cabinet or drawer for your toddler's play during dinner prep time. Make sure it's close to your kitchen work area, but not in the traffic area.

Stock the cabinet with kid-friendly dishes. Fill it up with a variety of plastic bowls, plates, cups and spoons. The type of bowls that have lids and stack inside each other will provide hours of enjoyment.

Announce that it's time to cook dinner. Say, "Let's get our dishes out." Train her to play with her dishes while you get out the pots and pans needed to prepare dinner. Direct her to get out an important item for you. "Maddie, can you find the big, white plastic spoon? I need it for the pasta." While Maddie looks for the spoon, you have time to wash the lettuce and pour yourself a glass of Cabernet.

Rotate the items in the drawer to keep your toddler's interest high. Add cookie cutters and an apron. Stick her dolly in there before you leave in the morning. She will be very excited to see her in the cabinet. "Dolly, what are you doing in here?"

Direct your older toddler to set the table, placing the dishes and silverware at each family member's place.

Set out a quiet activity like coloring or stickers for when you are pulling all of the last minute details of dinner together.

Items you will need

  • Plastic bowls
  • Stacking cups
  • Plastic spoons
  • Plastic plates


  • Mark plastic place mats with a permanent marker outlining the placement of the dishes and silverware.

About the Author

Susan Rickey started writing in 1994 with a technology feature article for the "Pioneer Press." She was the writer of the Klamath Forest Alliance newsletter, an environmental organization. Rickey obtained her teaching credential from California State University and acquired her Bachelor of Science from the University of Arkansas.

Photo Credits

  • Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images