Kitchen Boxes

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Toddlers love to be your helpers, which can be adorable, but which also sometimes places them squarely under foot and in the way… like when you’re cooking in the kitchen! Encourage their eager need to be involved by setting up a play kitchen right alongside yours.

There’s no need to buy a fancy store-bought kitchen; chances are you have everything you need right at home for this game.

I saved up empty snack boxes over the course of a week and taped them shut to be Veronika’s pantry staples and “groceries”. (Note: The youngest toddlers might be happy just with these boxes and nothing else! They make great towers).

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Then I set up two toddler chairs side by side as her kitchen counter. Use empty large boxes if you don’t have chairs that are the right height. Her kitchen was soon outfitted with brightly colored measuring cups, a set of measuring spoons we use just for play, and other accessories like whisks and rolling pins.

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Soon she was very busy “cooking”!

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Veronika was in luck today because I finished up a bottle of vegetable oil making my recipe. This was quickly added to her kitchen. Build up a similar stock for your little one over time, adding old aprons, dish cloths, empty bottles, spare utensils, and more.

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As I filled muffin tins with real batter, I gave her an old cake pan to “bake” her recipe in.

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She was so busy and happy by my side playing this game, and never in the way!

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Easy Edible Paint Made with Real Fruit

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Veronika wants to paint every time big brother gets paints and brushes, but I worry still that she’ll put the paintbrush in her mouth. With this fruit paint, there’s no need to fret; these brushes were made for tasting!

To prepare three colors of paint, I pureed a batch each of: blueberries, bananas, and kiwi. For the bananas and kiwi, I thickened the “paint” slightly with a little applesauce from a pouch, and then added a few drops of all-natural food coloring (in yellow and green, respectively) to amp up the color. Here’s the before of the kiwi:

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Versus the after:

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I used frozen blueberries, which pureed into a deep, thick purple that needed no embellishment. If you use fresh blueberries, you may find you also want a squeeze of applesauce and a few drops of blue food coloring.

I set out all three colors in paper cups for Veronika, along with paintbrushes and a thick piece of watercolor paper.

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Say no more, she absolutely loved it! First she just wanted to dip the paintbrush into the blueberry paint over and over. I prompted her to think about her sense of smell as she played, the fresh fruit filling her nostrils.

Then she moved paintbrush to paper experimentally. She loved discovering she could make blobs and swirls.

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I worried that the blueberry would stain little fingers and clothes, so I gently pushed the banana and kiwi into prime position. She was equally entranced!

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She kept busy with this for quite some time before eventually dumping some of the kiwi paint onto the paper.

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At this point I simply moved the paper aside and it was fun for her to smear.

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Did she taste it? Not really, actually! I think she might have gotten a tiny lick of the banana once, but mostly she seemed happy to paint with it.

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It was fantastic to see her so engaged with this artistically, and to know that even a nibble was worry-free.

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Food Exploration Station

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The compartments of an ice cube tray are just the right size for setting up a station that allows your toddler to touch, taste, poke at, and other wise explore food! This game is great for soon after a meal so that the emphasis is on all the senses, not just on eating.

I wanted to fill the tray with a variety, but not an overwhelming amount of different objects for Veronika. I included warm cooked carrots, chilled slices of watermelon just out of the fridge, soft chunks of room temperature banana, and a crumbly cookie.

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Veronika wasted no time getting her hands in there! “Hot!” she said to me, feeling the carrot, quickly follow by a surprised, “Cold!” to the watermelon. She smooshed one of the banana pieces in her hand, but mostly passed that over in favor of the watermelon.

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The cookie certainly got a few nibbles, too. You can use any fruits or veggies (or cookies!) for this activity, or play multiple times with seasonal fruits at different times of the year. Because all of the foods were about the same size, they are fun for stacking, too.

For some slipperier tactile play, I cooked up green linguine noodles. These were great both for the texture (somewhat slimy, which can take toddlers a while to get used to) and for the color.

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I thought she might hesitate, but she loved mushing through the noodles with her fingers. Once she took a nibble, she looked at me with recognition. “Pasta!” she said.

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Don’t forget, toddlers learn about food when exploring like this. So the next time this happens…

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…don’t scold. It’s all about the process! And kind of like an art project, too.

Sensory Play with Frozen Veggies

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Not only is this game great for toddler sensory fun, it doubles as a comforting way to soothe all those teeth coming in. Veronika is currently getting 8 new chompers, in addition to the 8 front ones she’s already got, which made the timing just right.

To play, I simply opened up a bag of frozen mixed vegetables and emptied them onto an pizza tray.

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I added a big ladle for her to scoop with, but the lip of it was too tough to get under the veggies, so soon we switched to a regular dinner spoon.

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She took it from there! She loved the sound that the spoon made in the pan, shoveling through the veggie pile, and of course pushing them to the floor.

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The small carrots, peas, and corn will thaw pretty quickly, but remain cold enough to soothe, which means she was thrilled when she lifted the spoon to her mouth and got a taste.

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This became an impish game, testing if mommy was going to chide her for eating her “toys”. Not this time!

If you want to throw in some quick learning, talk about the colors of the different veggies!

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Mostly, though, I let her play solo; the veggies kept her happy on the kitchen floor for almost a half hour, a big win in my book!


Fruit-Filled Jigglers

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Jell-o desserts might just be the perfect sensory material for toddlers, equal parts play and edible snack! Here’s a fun twist on how Veronika has played with jell-o in the past. As always, I use the vegan jel dessert from Simply Delish.

Prepare the dessert according to package directions (we used strawberry), and pour into very shallow plates or containers as a mold.

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I added a few raspberries as “treasures” for Veronika to dig up. Any other berry or small pieces of fruit would work, too. Consider a fruit your little one hasn’t tried yet, as this game encourages taste exploration!

As I prepared dinner, I sat Veronika down in her high chair and scooped out the thin layers of jell-o. I gave her an assortment of cookie cutters, and let her go to town!

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It was fun to talk about the shapes she could make with the cookie cutters, and she did lots of poking and prodding.

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When she discovered the raspberries, she was delighted! She seemed a bit overwhelmed by the amount of jell-o on her tray, so I pared it down to one portion per cookie cutter shape.

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She grinned when she discovered the taste! This is the perfect activity to fill time while you cook.

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Melon Balls Edible Sensory Bin

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This sensory bin didn’t turn out quite as attractive as I hoped, but the goal of course was fun, not Instagram worthiness, and Veronika sure had fun with it. Originally I hoped to arrange the tricolor visual of round honeydew, cantaloupe, and watermelon balls in a small tray. But with all my small Tupperware in the dishwasher and short on green honeydew, I set the balls only watermelon and cantaloupe on a baking sheet instead.

I added a few scoops and spoons, as well as a chopstick spear, and set Veronika loose!

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She loved using the spoon first.

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The chopstick was novel, and she lifted the pieces of melon up and down on it.

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I encouraged her to get right in there with her hands, showing her how we could squeeze and squish the melon.

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Of course this led to the delightful discovery that it tasted good.

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And that it made a satisfying “splat!” when thrown against the floor.

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In sum, this kept my thirteen-month-old busy for quite a while, filling cups, nibbling, and enjoying.

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Cheery O’s!

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O cereal is the deservedly one of the best first cereals for babies, and for so many reasons. The circles are easy for a little one to pick up with little fingers; they dissolve easily in the mouth, and those cute circles are just begging to be played with, too!

To wit, today at snack time I didn’t just set o cereal on Veronika’s tray; instead, I gave her two cups, one empty and one full, to turn it into a pouring and scooping game.

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She took right to it, and loved learning to pour directly from one cup to another, her best success with pouring yet.

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She also loved the small plinking sound that the cereal made if she dropped it into a cup by hand.

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And of course there is happy nibbling that takes place throughout the game! This is fast, fun, easy entertainment for any young toddler.

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Sensory Activity: Cool Whip

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Older toddlers can safely play with shaving cream, a fantastic material for sensory play, but if you need something for a younger toddler who still wants to see how everything tastes, look no further than whipped cream as a substitute.

For this game, I used the vegan CocoWhip from Soy Delicious. You could also use soy or rice whip from a spray can, but I worried the sound would startle Veronika!

Instead, I sat her down in her high chair and dolloped a big blob of the CocoWhip in front of her.

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With December just around the corner, it was time to get in a snowy holiday spirit! So I added a few holiday items, like sparkly hair ties and Christmas cookie cutters.

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She absolutely loved scooping the whipped cream into the cookie cutter shapes, almost like she was frosting them.

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We also pretended her spatula was a snow plow, with fun sound effects, and I showed her how to spread the whipped cream thinly and thickly. Then we made whipped cream” cookies”!

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The sparkly hair ties were fun to dip and dangle in it!

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She had so much fun that when I asked if she was all done, she signed “more more”. A first!

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I’d say this was one successful sensory experience. She had so much fun that we might try it again for other holiday themes, like Easter in the spring or with Halloween items in the fall.

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Mashed Potato Sculpture

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This is a great sensory activity… and a way to get your kid to try mashed potatoes!

Start with instant mashed potatoes as the base. Yes, you can bake and mash your own, but the instant stuff has a sticky quality that makes it better suited to this “art” project. I whipped up a batch using almond milk, Earth Balance butter, and the potato flakes, and then let it cool completely.

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When Veronika was finished with lunch, I spooned a huge heap of this onto her tray. She looked instantly delighted!

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Set out a few props to encourage the artistic process. Veronika received a measuring cup and spoon, and soon was scooping, digging, and poking holes in it.

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I showed her how to make a few “sculptural” elements, including round balls and little snakes.

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I tried for a little mashed potato snowman, but Veronika didn’t let him last long!

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And of course she discovered that little bites of the stuff was delicious. Eager fingers kept digging in for more, both to eat and to play!

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Fruit Ripening Science is Bananas

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Just before Halloween, Travis made Boo-Nana Bread form Raddish KidsSpooky Kitchen crate. Now we’re finally getting around to the fruit-ripening science lesson attached to it!

Before anything else, we needed to set in motion an experiment that would take 5 days. I purchased a bunch of (fairly) green bananas at the grocery store, as well as a few riper ones.

Ask your child to describe the differences they notice between the ripe and unripe bananas. Travis pointed out the obvious color difference, first. A little probing helped him go deeper: the ripe ones were softer, and smelled sweeter.

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I asked him if a banana needed anything other than itself to ripen. Somehow he knew it needed air (oxygen). Smarty pants!

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But for scientific backup to this hypothesis, we experimented by placing the following:

  • 1 green banana out on the counter
  • 2 green bananas in a paper bag, folded up tight
  • 1 green banana and 1 ripe banana (for ethylene) in a paper bag, folded up tight
  • 2 green bananas in a sealed plastic bag
  • 1 green banana wrapped in layers of plastic wrap

That last was Travis’s favorite, pretending we were making a banana mummy!

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Meanwhile, it was time for a little science behind the lesson. I set out two plates for him, one featuring non-climacteric fruits i.e. they do not ripen after picking. Raddish provided a long list to choose from, and our plate included: a bell pepper, blueberries, cucumber, orange, and yellow squash.

The second plate had climacteric fruits i.e. ones that do ripen after picking. This plate held an avocado, a pear, and a mango.

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“Can I eat it,” he asked right away of the mango. “Is it ripe?” At first he was stumped about how I had categorized them, guessing I had sorted them by color. But hmm, why wasn’t the cucumber on the green plate?

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I loved watching him really ponder this! I guided him back to his very first comment about the mango. Was it ripe? Now he understood that one plate held fruits we needed to wait for; the other plate was fruits that wouldn’t ripen further after picking.

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Time to explore! I let him have at the food just for fun. He loved peeling the squash and taking little nibbles of it, plus practicing his knife skills on the bell pepper…

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…and crunching into the cucumber for a big bite.

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He decided to wait until the mango was riper before peeling it. Good choice! Plus he gave the unripe avocado a big squeeze and it was solid as a rock.

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Five days later, we finished with a little more science now that we had our banana results.¬†Our finding weren’t quite as promising as hoped, likely because I had to start with green bananas on the verge of yellow and a yellow banana on the verge of green, based on what the grocery store had to sell. But we still could see that the countertop banana was the brownest/ripest and the plastic bag bananas had retained the most green.

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Interestingly, our plastic-wrapped banana had gotten quite ripe, so we must not have made the “mummy” tight enough.

The green bananas in the paper bag had ripened faster than the ones in plastic, since the porous paper gives them access to oxygen. But the one that also enjoyed the company of a ripe banana had both oxygen and extra ethylene, so that was riper still.

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Enough science; as it turns out, leftover bananas are lots of fun to play with, even for little sister!

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We enjoyed one final video of a similar experiment done with supermarket food. If your kids loved the banana experiment, try out an avocado one!

Travis and I also decided to check out the suggested book Science Experiments You Can Eat, by Vicki Cobb. We read through a couple of the experiments, but didn’t actually put any to the test.