Cooking with kids: a recipe for surviving dinner prep

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By Sara Barokas

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It’s the end of the day, you’re exhausted, the kids are wound up and you’ve got to get dinner ready. You’d rather not sit the kids down in front of the iPad or TV but you’ve got to keep them occupied so you can cook and they don’t get into trouble while you’re not looking! While I don’t have the perfect solution, I do have a few good ideas to get you heading in the right direction.

These five quick activities range from simply getting the kids out from under your feet to getting them involved in helping making a dish for the family meal. All of them aim to get kids to participate in prepping for family meal time, and all of them can be done in just 10 minutes – the same amount of time it takes to cook one of Gousto’s Ten to Table recipes.

1: Table decorations

Let’s be realistic; a family dinner won’t always look super fancy. But it is nice to sit down at table that’s laid out and ready for a family meal. Armed with paper, tape, scissors and markers (coloured pencils or crayons will do perfectly well, too) the kids can make personalised placemats and napkin rings for the family. It won’t look exactly like an upmarket scene from Downton Abbey, but it will be colourful!

You’ll need:

  • Paper
  • Colouring materials (crayons, pens, markers)
  • Scissors
  • Tape


  1. Colour and decorate the paper anyway you like.
  2. Cut one of the decorated pieces of paper into strips. Roll up a napkin and tape a strip of paper around the napkin.
  3. Use one decorated sheet of paper as a placemat for each person at the table. For older kids weave a paper placemat for each person at the table:
    a.) Fold one paper in half and cut 6 lines into the middle of the sheet then open up the sheet of paper to reveal the slots.
    b.) Cut one sheet of paper into 6 long strips.
    c.) Weave the long strips into the slots of the first sheet.

Perfect pairing with: Having grandparents round for a quick bite and making them feel special with a custom placemat.

2: 5 minute playdough

Since you’re in the kitchen cooking up a storm, you could have the kids in there with you making their own little masterpiece. But instead of something edible, get them to make playdough. This simple no-cook recipe uses ingredients you’re likely to have on hand already or can grab in a pinch. Once the dough is made, provide your child with a few tools (rolling pin, blunt cutlery, cookie cutters, etc) and a space to work.


  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 cup salt
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • ½ cup cold water
  • 2 drops food colouring


  1. Combine the flour and salt.
  2. Add the water, food colouring and oil. Mix until all ingredients are combined. Add more water if the mixture is still a little dry and not combining.
  3. Knead well.
  4. If consistency is too dry add more water, if consistency is too wet add a little plain flour.

Perfect pairing with: The energetic child who just has to be with you in the kitchen.

3. Mini-sous chefGousto and toucanBox

We might be a little biased, but we happen to think cooking is a pretty cool way to learn and be creative at the same time. Cooking helps build kids’ self-confidence, makes them more self-sufficient, and allows them to practice and show off some the skills they are learning at school. You might not be ready to have a mini-sous chef in your kitchen but if you are, here are few tips to help you get started.

It’ll come as no surprise that kids helping in the kitchen require plenty of supervision. Give them basic tasks to keep them busy. Younger kids are still fine-tuning their motor skills, so make sure you choose things that don’t need to be precise. At this age their best tool is their hands, so focus on tasks that allow them to grab, smash or tear. Older kids have more developed hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills so allow them to take on more difficult tasks, like cracking an egg or slicing with a knife.

3-5 year old kitchen tasks:

  • Wash fruits and vegetables
  • Tear lettuce for salads
  • Mash ingredients
  • Wrap veg in foil to bake
  • Knead dough (you’ll want to get it started for them, but many kids will love to punch and toss a ball of dough)

5-8 year old kitchen tasks:

  • Mix dry ingredients
  • Measure and count items
  • Set the table
  • Crack eggs (just watch out for those shells!)
  • Roll dough or meat into balls
  • Chop softer fruits and veggies
  • Read recipe steps aloud

Perfect pairing with: You! Having some quality time in the kitchen with your little ones. What could be more fun?

4: Make a menu

This a great activity to do as a one-off – or better yet – make it a recurring task. One-off menus can be made with just paper and markers. To make this activity a bit more permanent you can turn a simple sheet of cardboard into a chalkboard poster. Older kids can write out the items on the menu, and younger kids can draw pictures to illustrate the meal.

To make a chalkboard menu you’ll need:

  • A sheet of cardboard
  • Chalkboard paint (you will need to paint the cardboard with at least two coats of paint)
  • Coloured chalk

Perfect pairing with: Siblings, working together to present the dinner menu.

5: Edible Creations

Cookie decoration provides an excellent creative outlet for kids and gives you time and space to get dinner ready. Grab a ready-made dough from the shops or follow our make-ahead cookie dough recipe to keep on hand. Set the kids up at a table with the dough and an assortment of cookie cutters. They can make the dough into any shape they want and sprinkle some sugar on their creations before baking. Once out of the oven decorate with icing. Perfect kid-made cookies to share for dessert!


  • 6 tbsp softened butter
  • ½ cup icing sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ cup plain flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt

Make ahead instructions:

  1. Beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer in a large bowl until smooth. Blend egg and vanilla extract into the butter mixture.
  2. Stir flour, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl; mix into the butter mixture until just incorporated. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and freeze.

Baking instructions:

  1. Thaw the frozen dough overnight in the refrigerator. Remove from refrigerator and let the dough warm to room temperature.
  2. Preheat oven to 175 °C (350 °F).
  3. Roll dough out onto a flat surface to about 1/4 inch in thickness. Cut dough into shapes with cookie cutters; arrange onto baking sheets.
  4. Bake cookies for about 8-12 minutes, until firm in the centre but not yet browning. Let cool briefly on baking sheet before transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Perfect pairing with: A healthy meal that deserves a sweet treat afterwards

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Sara Barokas is the chief product officer at toucanBox, a flexible subscription box encouraging crafting, creativity and learning in children aged 3-8.

Try your first toucanBox for FREE (just £1 postage) via this link!


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