Hands-On Meals That Will Keep Kids Amused During Snow Days

True confession: I love snow days almost as much as my children do. Sleeping late, hot chocolate with every meal, movie marathons and pajamas all day long are just my style. Unfortunately, vegging out does not keep my little guys occupied for too long — they start to get wiggly after a while. Even snowball fights are short-lived when the air is so bitterly cold.

When we're all snowed in and needing to burn off some steam, you better believe we head to the kitchen.

When we're all snowed in and needing to burn off some steam, you better believe we head to the kitchen. It's the warm and cozy heart of our home, and it's also the perfect setting for a morning or afternoon of snow-day activities. Here are my best tips for prepping and playing out a wonderful winter day in the kitchen.

1. Stock up your pantry and your recipe box. The only thing worse than navigating the pre-storm crowds at the grocery store is waking up to several inches (or feet!) of snow and being out of ingredients. Brave the craziness when you first hear the weather predictions and let the fun start with stocking your pantry. Head to the store with the kids and shop for at least three solid days of food. (It sounds nuts, I know, but it's worth it in the long run.) Engage the kids by inviting them to select some items and then organize the new groceries when you get home.

Let these snow days be your opportunity to test recipes you haven't had the time — or the interest — to try. With nothing but time, a well-stocked pantry and a house full of kids needing to keep busy, I like to start with simple recipes I've been saving, like this one for easy wrap sandwiches. It incorporates only six ingredients and requires easy assembly, which is ideal for kids of all ages. Plus, we can enjoy them right away for lunch with whole-wheat crackers.

2. Prepare to delegate jobs. My favorite moment of a snow day is when the boys stumble out of their rooms, all discombobulated from having slept in, and discover the sparkly white outside the windows. The joy is pure as the snow itself.

Before the joy turns to arguing or whines of boredom, I unveil the series of recipes and cooking techniques we will be tackling that day. Whether we'll be mixing homemade play dough, baking cookies, flipping pancakes or putting together an extra-special family dinner, I divvy up the kitchen into stations and the jobs among the kids. As a team, we grab the ingredients and equipment and get started right away.

The youngest members of the family are in charge of taste testing and mixing with either wooden spoons or their own hands. Toddlers get to crack eggs and carefully stir things on the stovetop. The older kids are responsible for measuring, putting away supplies and plating. Cheddar chili dogs fit this delegation plan just right. My oldest is in charge of opening and warming the chili beans, while my youngest is put on hot dog duty, removing them from the packaging and warming them in a hot water bath. All together, we arrange a bar of toppings and have a grand old time creating our dogs.

3. Make more than enough. Before the kiddos head out the door for sledding, help them set up a walking taco spread. Even making snow angels works up an appetite; you can be sure they'll return ready to eat. You can also be sure your kids will multiply in the snow. They will always bring friends home with them, so be prepared with a delicious, assembly-heavy meal that feels like a treat for everyone. (As a bonus, the walking taco recipe dirties very few dishes.)

4. Serve it up hot! Make use of your slow cooker on snow days. Using this recipe for sloppy joes, my little guys work together to crumble and season ground turkey. After I do the work on the stove, I transfer it all to a crock so it stays hot. (Use your slow cooker's "keep warm" or "warm" setting.) This is when we all head out to play. When we barrel back into the house, the comforting aromas wafting through the air instantly thaw our frozen noses, and lunch can be served as soon as we are out of our wet clothes. Toasty whole-wheat buns spilling with hearty, meaty goodness are the ultimate way to warm everyone from the inside out.

If the word on the street is right, we have a real whopper of a winter ahead of us. Look forward to every single snow day as a reason to flex your family's collective creative muscles in the kitchen. Make sure everyone is involved, and you'll be cooking up memories with every flake that falls.