No, you don’t have to plant them in front of the TV while you prepare dinner (not that we’d judge if you did!). But instead, teach them new things and enjoy quality Mommy-and-me time with these suggestions.
Get kid-size equipment. "My daughter has her own apron, measuring cup, and plastic spoons so she feels grown up when we bake," says Kristy Branham, a mom of two from Boston, Massachusetts "I even turn it into a counting lesson as she helps pour cups of flour into, say, cookie batter."
Let them imitate you. As you prep, let kids play with pots, spoons, even empty plastic spice jars. Keep a few low kitchen drawers and cabinets stocked with safe kitchen items.
Don’t stress over appearance. "Setting the table is one way kids can help, from very early on," says Dorie DeGeest, a mom of three in Austin, Texas. "But if it’s just our family, it doesn’t really matter how the table looks." Napkins folded wrong? Utensils not in the right place? No biggie. DeGeest also gives her toddler clean silverware (minus the sharp knives) to sort into the right sections of the silverware tray, a "puzzle" she enjoys.
Do the green thing. "I give my boys a used jar and show them they can peel off the label and rinse it out," says DeGeest. "It’s funny: What seems like a dirty job to me is actually a lot of fun to them."
Don’t forget, safety first. "Honestly, if I’ve got three burners going on the stove, having a little guy right there is dangerous," says Benjamin David, a dad of one from Erie, Pennsylvania. "These days, we put him at the table with Play-doh so he can make pretend spaghetti or burgers or whatever we’re eating that night. That way he’s still near us and engaged in the cooking process, but minus the danger. Win-win."