A few months ago, after yet another stack of bright plastic plates tumbled out of an upper cabinet, I set up a dedicated drawer for all of my daughter's kitchen things. I put everything in there: her plates, bowls, cups, and placemats. It's a big drawer, so we also store her cooking tools there too, including a crinkle cutter, small cutting board, masher, and ice pop molds.
It was a magical aha moment, and I couldn't believe I hadn't thought of it earlier. This simple change instantly changed her relationship to getting ready for mealtime — and cleaning up afterwards. And it's restored the calm to the rest of our cabinets, which has been a relief to me after a few years of living with the chaos. Here's why I now recommend it to everyone I know with little kids.
1. It de-clutters the main cabinets.
If you've ever tried stacking compartmentalized kiddie plates with your regular dishes, or fitting in your collection of sippy cups with your drinking glasses, you understand how irritating this part of family life can be. Rather than trying to squeeze like things together into one cabinet, we now separate them out completely. This allows our adult dishes to be neat and orderly (and safe from wobbly stacking) and puts the less-sophisticated kid stuff in one place.
2. The kids can easily help prepare for mealtime.
The 20 minutes before dinner tends to be the most chaotic part of our day. We're all hungry, the kids are tired, and I'm trying to get decently prepared food onto the table. And while my 4-year-old isn't always interested in helping me cook, I can usually convince her to help set the table. She loves picking out her silverware and deciding which plate and placemat she'll use that night. Having everything she needs where she can easily reach it means that she can do this task all by herself, while I tend to more pressing matters.
3. It gives kids independence.
Aside from picking out her dinner gear, she can grab whatever else she needs — when she needs it. If she wants water at 4 in the afternoon, she can get it. If we're doing a baking project and we need a spatula, she can dig it out herself, which makes her very proud.
4. Kids can easily put their dishes away.
I'm endlessly entertained by how much my kid loves to help empty the dishwasher. (Please let this hobby last forever!) And while I don't have her putting away our fragile wine glasses, she can very easily put her own things where they belong in her drawer, which is satisfying for both of us. I love that this "chore" is fun and accessible now that the kitchen is set up to help her succeed.
5. It mimics lessons from preschool.
My daughter's preschool classroom is set up to facilitate independence, so everything is easily accessible at kid level. At mealtime, the kids help set the tables and are able to take ownership of specific tasks. As much as possible, I try to let these norms from preschool guide behavior at home. This goes for rules about washing hands, putting toys away, and helping at mealtime. It's comforting to have the same expectations at home as at school, and I've found that it often translates to better behavior, which I will take.
6. It prevents climbing on counters.
Okay, it might not prevent kitchen cabinet exploration entirely, but having a drawer within reach at least reduces the reasons that a child might feel the urge to climb onto a counter. This is better from a safety perspective (clearly) and may reduce the likelihood that your kids will get into things you really want to keep out of reach — like your chocolate stash. Gotta protect that chocolate! And also the children.
Where do you keep your kid's dinnerware?