As tough as it can be for parents to loosen the reins on their growing children, independence is an invaluable trait to instill in young ones—and these lessons often begin in the kitchen. Working as a professional organizer, I’ve discovered that parents often wish their children could do more for themselves, but their kitchens work against their goals.
The more we organize the kitchen from the perspective of the younger family members, the more independent they can be. Children enjoy being able to help themselves, and parents get the added benefit of a helping hand. The result: A more relaxing, happy time in the kitchen for everyone.
Creating a kitchen that works for the whole family involves proper organization, accessible cabinets and pantries, and functional décor. Here are some of my favorite tips for creating a kid-friendly kitchen:
Move the dishes – Little people can and should be able to reach their plastic dishes, cups and lids. Move them to a lower drawer or cabinet where they can easily access them, and add a basket to hold their silverware. You might also consider a dedicated Lazy Susan or sliding drawer that can pull out of lower cabinets, so that children can easily access their own plates, bowls and cups without making a mess or endangering themselves with access to heavy pans or sharp utensils. This way, they can set their own place at the table or get their own drink when they’re thirsty. They can help put clean dishes away, and they can also learn to put their dirty, plastic dishes in the sink.
Switch up your food storage – Sometimes, the things children need the most are out of their reach. Swap around your pantry and cabinet storage so that the lower shelves contain breakfast items and approved snacks. Cereal, granola bars, boxes of raisins, peanut butter and so on can be placed on the lower shelves. A simple system for monitoring snacks is to put special treats up high and tell them they must ask permission for those items, but healthier snacks on the lower shelf are fair game.
Consider the fridge – Rearrange your refrigerated goodies so that the items children most often need to reach are on the lowest shelf. Refrigerator shelves are easily adjustable, so you can make the lower shelf space tall enough to accommodate milk or juice. Add a plastic bin to hold yogurt, string cheese and fruit.
Adapt for smaller people – Add a sturdy and safe stepstool to the kitchen so that children can safely reach cabinets or work next to you at the counter. One task children love to do—pouring their own drink—can often be difficult due to the weight of the container. Moving some milk from the gallon carton into a child-safe, easy-to-pour pitcher can solve this dilemma. Another is to prefill some sippy cups with lids and place them in the refrigerator where the child can reach them.
Add a menu — Children are often asking what they can have for a snack or for breakfast, and parents find themselves negotiating. Meet the subject head-on by posting your list of breakfast items for the week or snacks that they may choose from. It’s much easier to tell your child to choose an item from the list than it is to argue over everything they want to eat that you don’t want them to eat. Post your list on the fridge or on a wipe-off board. I recommend using chalkboard decals for your menu.
Finally, pay attention to tasks your child can safely help you with in the kitchen. Design your cabinets and storage so that they can reach what they need to, and can’t reach what they shouldn’t. The more time they spend helping and enjoying the kitchen with you, the more happy memories you will build together.
As an acclaimed professional organizer, Lea Schneider's organizing advice has appeared in numerous publications such as The Washington Post and Woman’s Day. Lea especially enjoys providing organizational tips for kitchen cabinets. Go to The Home Depot to view more kitchen cabinets and organizational accessories.