How to occupy a toddler while cooking

You know that time of day where your child turns into a demon, your phone starts ringing and the uncooked supper screams at you from the fridge? For me, that hellish point in the day always arrives at around 4pm. *BANG* – it hits us like a train.

One of the hardest things I find at this time is multi-tasking; answering the phone, while juggling a tantrumming toddler on one hip and cutting up an onion with one hand. Anyone with children will tell you – it’s a hard job to occupy a toddler while cooking. Especially if that cooking involves more than just bunging something in the oven.

I experienced a revelation today though. 4pm arrived and there was no sign of the metamorphosis from angel to demon in my beautiful child. She remained happy, calm and content. She occupied herself and didn’t once asked to be lifted up, to “help”, to have “CHOC CHOC!” or for ketchup to be smothered over her uncooked supper.

And it’s all down to one thing.

Playdough parenting

In a miraculous change from the norm, my two and half year old fell fast asleep on the way home from nursery today. She was totally zonked, to the point where she didn’t even wake up as I carried her from the car to the sofa.

Sleeping toddlerWhile she slept, I used the time to chuck a couple of loads of washing in the machine and catch up with my emails. But an hour passed and still she didn’t wake. So rather than nap myself (I don’t trust myself to wake up again before the following morning if I do that) I made some no cook play dough, courtesy of The Imagination Tree.

I polished off my Perfect Mother halo and wiped down Frog’s little play table, before placing the play dough, some cookie cutters, cupcake pots and spoons, along with a little teapot on the table.

Play invitation - play dough

When my toddler woke, I wasn’t stressed at the thought of dealing with a grumpy child while cooking our evening meal. Instead, I let her gently come to before wandering into the kitchen to discover her little play scene all laid out before her.

For once, I actually felt like a half decent mum. You know, the ones that are actually organised and arrange activities for their kids before they get bored and whingey?

With a gasp of excitement, Frog got to work playing. She made cakes, cut up cookies, talked about the shapes she was making, sang Happy Birthday and pretty much escaped into her own little world for a good half an hour.

Play dough abandoned play

Toddler play dough play

Happy playing toddler

It might stick on your shoes and the glitter might need sweeping off the floor, but I’m telling you – play dough is the way to go. I’ll take sticky shoes over a grumpy toddler and burnt supper any day.


I’m linking this post up to The Sunday Showcase at Here Come The Girls and Tuesday Tots at Rainy Day Mum.



  1. says

    Oh, I agree totally. Play dough is The Best Thing Ever! Afraid that my attempts at making it are infrequent and only occasionally successful, but my sister bought us a huge tub of ready made stuff which both my children are happy to play with. I have a 6 and 2 year old occupied at tea time, plus (vaguely worryingly) an interested kitten as well…..!!

    • says

      I’m in no way a play dough expert but the recipe at The Imagination Tree (linked to in this post) is BRILLIANT. Took about 5 minutes and required no cooking AT ALL!

  2. says

    This is a much needed read which I hope a lot of mums find, as trying to cook with a grumpy two year old is THE HARDEST THING IN THE WORLD and it is not much easier when the husband is around as he expects Aaron to play with his toys whilst he is on the laptop instead of actually engaging with him.

    We love play dough but we play with the real thing so it is all in individual coloured pots, which is a bit of a faff. Your style looks WAY more flexible and I must genuinely try to get round to giving it a try.

    Thanks, Liska

  3. says

    Oh yes – cooking is such a hard time. My twins are two and a half and I’m finding it a bit easier because they will stay in the sitting room for a while on there own and play. I struggled to cook anything complicated for a while.

  4. says

    Well I might just have to give this a go. My wee man is usually not too bad and just brings toys into the kitchen while I am cooking. He is getting interested in what I am doing now though and was thinking of getting his own sets of pots and pans to entertain him!

  5. says

    YEAH – success for the dreaded hour. I really really hate that time of the day and if I’m prepared will set up something but more often than not I stick on the TV… must be more organised.

    Thank you for linking up to Tuesday Tots

  6. Bumptomum says

    Just to let you know I tried it and its fantastic!! My daughter was entertained for a whole hour!! Impressive!!

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