Once a week (barring holidays) my friend Sweet Ginger Mama and I get the toddlers together for a play date while my older son is at school. But this isn’t your regular old tea-sippin’, toy-negotiating get together – though those things usually happen too.
Sometimes it’s a marathon event, sometimes we just whip up a single big batch of mayo or cultured ketchup. Either way, both the kids and mamas are happy and entertained – and the bonus is we often come out the other end with dinner already made.
After quite a few kitchen play dates, we’ve got a few ideas of what works and what doesn’t.
1 – Be prepared
We typically meet on Mondays which gives us the weekend to get ready with shopping and gathering of supplies which we manage over email. Sometimes we meet at my house and sometimes at our friends’ house, but the best play dates happen when we’ve planned ahead and show up ready to cook (oh, and when the kids decide not to spend the whole time fighting over the ride-on fire truck).
2 – Be up front about money
Just like in a good marriage, it’s a smart idea to be on the same page when it comes to financial expectations when you’re sharing grocery bills with a friend. Talk openly to your play date partner about how you want to handle the shopping and money so that it is fair. One option is to tally receipts and pay the difference in cash or check before you leave the play date. We usually take turns buying each week, but keep a general tab of how much we spend, lest one person is always footing the bill.
3 – Dream up the menu
When I cook with a pal, I am much more likely to make a big mess, take bigger risks, or try something new. So share your bucket list with your kitchen buddy – everything from tasks that you dread to do alone (like cleaning cabbage off every surface of the kitchen from making kraut) to experimenting with an intimidating recipe. We’ve made homemade lotion, concocted massive pot of ‘nonton’ soup, done a whole day of cultured condiments (krauts, ranch dressing, mayo, etc), and lately we have a goal of stocking our freezers with casseroles and other dinner options.
4 – Think big
Having two extra hands means that you can make more in the same amount of time and mess, so make sure to at least double if not quadruple or even sextuple a great recipe so you both have some to freeze. Today Sweet Ginger Mama and I made six white chicken enchilada casseroles so we each had one for dinner and two for a lazy day down the road. We plan to do the same with next weeks’ pigs in the blanket casserole, saag paneer, and butter chicken.
5 – Be a good guest
It should go without saying, but if you are visiting another person’s kitchen, be respectful of their space, and be sure to leave it at least as clean as you found it. (Admittedly, I am guilty of not doing the latter on several occasions as I am rushing out the door to pick up a kid, but then I try to excuse my kitchen buddy of cleaning when she comes to my house – Sorry SGM!). Also, it’s nice to show up with a chocolate croissant. Tee-hee.
6 – Don’t forget the little people
With two toddlers under foot, Sweet Ginger Mama and I know that we need to be realistic about our play dates striking a balance between productivity and not neglecting our children. Typically we address this by tag teaming on kitchen duties and kid management – one of us is washing and chopping while the other is doing snack administration and who-stole-the-toy court. Every now and then the kids play nicely on their own, and we get a chance to chat and get busy. But just a reminder, if you hear silence from the other room, there’s a good chance the littles are doing art with mama’s make up kit. Better hurry up and check.
Depending on the age, older children may be more self-sufficient when it comes to entertainment, and/or they may want to get their hands dirty in the kitchen too. Starting at kindergarten age or even younger, kids can measure flour, stir pots, roll dough, and even chop veggies with supervision. During time when you don’t have a real task (or patience) for the kid helpers, give them ‘important’ jobs like counting carrots and weighing beans. Finally, know it’s ok to call it quits if anyone is simply not feeling it that day.
7 – Don’t forget to play!
Just because you’re in the kitchen, doesn’t mean it’s all work and no fun. Take time to sip some kombucha, share your week, and plan the next girls’ night out. Every now and then, hang up your aprons and go hop in the pool with the kids, after all it is a play date.
Do you have kitchen play dates?
What do you like to make?
How do you keep the kids entertained?