Enlist help. Many children like to help in the kitchen. Just assign them quick jobs so that they can move on when their attention wanes without leaving a crucial task unfinished. "Young kids love anything with water," says caterer Peter Callahan. "Give them a stool and a vegetable brush and set them up washing vegetables." Bonus: "Kids will try 90 percent of the things they help make," says chef Jennifer Bushman.
Her tip for inspiring participation is to buy kitchen tools made specifically for children, such as plastic knives, or color-coded tools, such as cutting boards and spatulas―red for Katie, blue for John. "They'll enjoy their new toys and be excited to use them," says Bushman. She also encourages children to come up with their own secret recipes, for a salad dressing, say, which the family gets to try at dinner.
Assign tasks at will, or write them on slips of paper, put them in a bag or a bowl, and let everyone choose his or her job for the night. (To download the task cards shown in the photo above, go to Dinner Preparation Task Cards.) Here's to being the lucky one who draws "You're off the hook!"