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How to Make Meal Prep Easier with the Best Montessori Kitchen Tools

Updated: Dec 28, 2023

Here's how to make prepping meals easier on you with a Montessori kitchen setup (and mindset of what can your child do to help)

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When it's time to make dinner, there is a specific refrain that can be heard in many homes with toddlers. It sounds something like...

I just need 10 minutes, okay?
YOU stay here with this — see how fun?
I'll be right there, buddy!
Okay, I'll hold you for a minute while I stir this, but then you go play.

Scarcity of time is a real struggle when you're trying to make a family meal with a toddler in the mix.

And the reality is that all the attempts to distract the child, along with the repeated mama requests for scraps of time, (I just need...), adds up to a whole lot of time and energy — plus frustration, occasional attempts at bribery, and often a toddler meltdown as a grand finale.

In Jamie Glowacki's book on parenting toddlers, Oh Crap I Have a Toddler, she shares:

“There’s an African proverb that says, “A child not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.”

So what's the solution out of this repetitive negative loop that circles around meal times? (Besides doing pizza night or takeout!).

bring kids into the action with prepping meals

You want to add a few kids' cooking tools to your kitchen, plus consider changing up how you look at the task of preparing a family meal.

A family meal can be an activity for the entire family.

It starts with looking for ways you can bring your child into the activity — knowing it will look different from you doing the task alone (without the distraction of a toddler.)

Take the task of making a family meal.

What are a couple of jobs you CAN give to your toddler to bring them into the action?

best Montessori kitchen tools
sharing the best Montessori kitchen tools we've been using for years

Instead of displacing your child somewhere else, with a distraction (like screen time) or an activity they're doing apart from you, think on a small job your toddler can do. Some task your child can be in charge of doing all on their own.

Then what happens is everyone gets busy in the same space, the kitchen. And then in a small but real way, you're all working on making the meal together. Where to start?

You can start with the process of setting the table — that's a task you can easily pass to your toddler with a few of the best Montessori kitchen tools.

There are the plates, silverware, napkins, and cups. What can your child do to help? Start with observing how you set up your eating area or kitchen.

Tip: In one of my favorite parenting books, The Montessori Toddler, Simone Davies shares how you can use a small basket for your toddler to carry items from the kitchen to set the table. She also shares how a placemat with a guide (for where to put the plate, cup, and silverware) can be helpful for the toddler, too. It turns setting the table into its own matching activity with shapes!

With food prep, you could set up your child on a learning tower or stool next to you to help prep the food at the counter with a few kids' cooking tools.

Maybe your toddler can help with the dinner you're working on (cutting crinkle cucumbers for the dinner salad?). Or maybe you're prepping dinner and your toddler is tasked with slicing strawberries and bananas to set up as snacks to put in the fridge for tomorrow.

Slicing veggies or fruits with a toddler knife, a banana slicer, or a strawberry slicer is sure to set up your child with a job for a good chunk of time.

Right next to you.

So you both have your own work.

You're working in the same space.

With an occupied toddler, it's easier for you to do your prep work.

So it also builds connection between you and your child.

Montessori banana slicer
A banana slicer makes instant slices for easy snacking.

And, here's how it makes prepping meals easier on you! Then, you're not having to shuttle back and forth between dinner prep and your toddler for the child acting out because they want to be with you. (Remember behavior is always communicating something.)

"Some children don't want to play by themselves. They won't let us leave the room, even to use the toilet. And the more space we want, the more clingy they get," Simone Biles shares in The Montessori Toddler.

Including your child in what you're doing around the house, including making meals, has a positive ripple effect that stacks up over time. What starts to happen as you bring the child into the fold of activity with you is you'll notice...

Less begging your child for time so you can finish your task faster.

Less wasted energy (the mental load is real!) in trying to distract your child so you can get back to the job in the kitchen.

More connection with your child (you're working together in the same space).

And over time, there's an even bigger reward that stacks up and matters.

Your child's confidence and autonomy grows with being a part of the activity happening at home, with a role in the meal prep, or a role in the home (say it's dishwashing), and that's where they can learn to shine.

I seriously think the investment I've made in a few of the best Montessori kitchen tools (especially kid knives!) has had a bigger impact on my kids than so many of the early childhood toys I thought were so necessary.

What are the helpful kids' cooking tools that have gotten years of use in our kitchen?

Here's my favorite go-to list to turn your child into more of a kitchen helper for mealtimes.

the best Montessori kitchen tools for making snacks

  • Crinkle cutter: A great introduction to cutting veggies and fruits for toddlers!

  • Strawberry slicer: Making perfectly even slices of strawberries is probably not something you'd take the time to do for a snack, salad, or dessert — but it's a gadget toddlers LOVE working with. And everyone can then enjoy the sweet strawberry slices! You can even add to water for a little strawberry flavor and pizazz.

  • Banana slicer: Nervous about knives? Start with a banana slicer that's super fun for kids to do. Then you can have your toddler set up snack with a tower of banana slices and their favorite nut butter or spread (here's our favorite, a dairy-free chocolate hazelnut butter that's delicious!).

  • Kid knife with finger guard and peeler: this knife set continues to get regular use in our house (long past the toddler stage). It's so well-made and has held up well over the years! I also appreciated the finger guard as an option when my kids were first learning how to use a knife. I also love this kids' knife set that includes a serrated knife and duck clippers!

  • Pitcher and cups: Serving everyone water for dinner can be another toddler job. A key Montessori principle is portion control: You want to put out only as much as you'd be okay to need clean up. That's why these small, sturdy pitchers are helpful.

  • Learning tower: a big investment, but it got way more use than the high chair for us. Both for helping in the kitchen, and working on crafts together, I got a good handful of years of daily use out of our learning tower. (You can also look to make your own.)

So flip the script before dinner, from...

I just need 10 minutes, PLEASE.

To something that looks like this.

You slice the strawberries. I'll stir the sauce.

Grab an apron for you and your child, and get to the finish line of dinner with fewer moments of frustration.

Over time, just watch. Those little moments, those life skills, they stack up.

Repetition and consistency is how we learn and how new routines form.

Pretty soon, it'll be your child flipping the fried eggs and giving you a break from breakfast duty.

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