Cooking dinner and entertaining a toddler at the same time can be a challenging task to achieve. My strategy is to cook straight forward no fuss meals that are quick and easy to prepare. This is where both of Jamie Oliver’s cookbooks – 15 Minute Meals and 30 Minute Meals – pay for themselves. That being said, I still need to find ways to entertain my toddler for the set period of time required to cook dinner.
I find it is important to foster independent play with my son so that he is able to amuse himself at times when mommy needs to get things done. There are days when this works brilliantly and my son is happy to play with his toys while I cook. But as anyone with a toddler knows, things don’t always run this smoothly. On occasions where plan A isn’t working, I need to be a little more creative so I can get dinner on the table. Here are 7 strategies to employ when your toddler needs entertaining.
1. Food – Toddlers like to graze and are always hungry. If it’s not too close to dinner time, try a healthy snack of fruit or cheese and crackers. Snacks can keep a toddler’s hands and mouth happily busy. If it’s closer to dinner time, feed your toddler early. My preference is to eat together as a family but sometimes my son gets a head start, which means he is occupied in his highchair while I finish cooking.
2. Play Music – I don’t mean music that you would enjoy listening to while cooking. I’m talking about playing one of those toddler CDs full of annoyingly repetitive songs like ‘Old MacDonald Had a Farm’, ‘Hickory Dickory Dock’ and ‘Five Little Monkeys Jumping on a Bed’. You can even sing along while you cook (c’mon we all know the words) and your toddler will fingers-crossed, happily bop away to the tunes.
3. Discovery Box – Put together a box of household items that have different textures, colours and sounds for your toddler to explore (photographs, swatches of fabric, empty containers filled with rice or beans). Store the box in the kitchen and reserve it specifically for playtime when you are cooking. Periodically change the items in the box so your toddler always has something new to discover and doesn’t get bored.
4. Role Play – Allow your toddler to role play by pretending to cook along with you. If you don’t want your toddler scratching your pots or running around with your expensive kitchen gadgets, invest in some pint-sized kitchen accessories like a set of mini pots and pans or toy fruits and vegetables. You could even spring for one of those tiny toddler kitchens and inspire a future chef.
5. Arts & Crafts – Set up some arts and crafts to keep your toddler busy. Something as simple as crayons and coloured paper can be an endless source of amusement. You can also buy or make your own play dough. It’s not messy and if your toddler eats it, it’s not harmful.
6. Outdoor Play Time – This only works when the weather is good (i.e. it’s not raining) and if you have a fenced in back garden that your kitchen overlooks. Place your toddler’s outdoor toys in view of the kitchen window where you can keep an eye on your toddler while you cook.
7. Babysitters – If you have someone on hand to mind your toddler while you are cooking, take full advantage. The most obvious babysitter to employ is your spouse but don’t be afraid to use dinner guests or relatives as babysitters too. You could even try inviting your dinner guests over early for a drink and some nibbles so they can mind your toddler while you prepare dinner. Hey, you’re feeding them so they might as well do something in return.