How To Keep Babies Busy While You Cook

Let's hope not by sitting them on the counter. But seriously, what is the best way to keep little ones occupied while you dice, sauté, and open oven doors? We're talking kids who are too young to help out in the kitchen or sit quietly in front of a DVD in another room. Want our tips? Want to share yours?

I have a one-year-old, and my saviors have been the spice rack and the recycling bins.

My spices are on a wire cart tucked under a corner of my cabinet, right next to two of these Tub Trugs filled with our recycling. My daughter stands at the spice rack and places the bottles one by one into the recycling. Then she'll sit and remove all of the envelopes and magazines from the paper bin or bang milk cartons together.

I can prep a good chunk of dinner while she shakes the cinnamon sticks.

We remove sharp metal from the bins, and so far she's uninterested in heavy wine or liquor bottles. Plus, she's very gentle and deliberate with the spices.

This won't work for everyone, clearly. So here are some other things I've tried or witnessed in friends' homes.

Have a designated kid cabinet. This is probably the most common and useful—filling one lower cabinet with plastic containers and wooden spoons. I don't have the space to dedicate an entire cabinet to Tupperware, but if you do, it's great.
Use the highchair. If your child will happily sit in a highchair with a snack, hooray.
Throw snacks on the floor. I'm not joking. My kitchen floor is clean (as clean as her hands, anyway), and it takes a while to pick up Cheerios one by one. (This works if they're not willing to be strapped into a high chair, and if you don't have a dog.)
Strap her to you. I've cooked with my child in an Ergo carrier.
Fill a bowl with water. Messy, but I've seen kids spend a good 10 minutes sticking one hand after another into a small bowl or cup of water.

Anyone use one of these tactics? What are your tried-and-true tips?

The photo above is of chef Tyler Florence in his home kitchen, where I'm sure he does not allow his daughter to sit unassisted on the counter.

Tyler Florence's Kitchen in House Beautiful

Related: Kitchen Organization: A Special Drawer for Kids' Dishes

(Image: John Lee/House Beautiful)