Teaching Your Kids Kitchen Safety

Maureen Wise
March 3, 2017

If you enjoy spending time in the kitchen with your kids, here's how you can make the experience safe for everyone.

You just got home from a long day, and dinner is so far from being on the table, you may as well have left it at work. You need to invest at least some time in the kitchen to get everyone fed, but instead of banishing the kids to the family room, why not spend some time together making dinner? You'll have to be more intentional about kitchen safety with children of any age cooking, but the benefits are great -- and the results taste good, too.

Diana Rice, a registered dietitian for The Kids Cook Monday, a nonprofit initiative to encourage families to cook and eat together, explains that when kids are involved in the cooking process, they make better food choices. Samantha Barnes, founder of Kitchen Kid and Raddish, agrees. She says, "Quite simply, kids who help prepare their food -- kale and broccoli included -- are more likely to eat it. Giving kids ownership in a meal, even if it's as simple as 'painting' a marinade on chicken, gives them a true sense of accomplishment, pride and family responsibility." Families that cook together are more likely to eat dinner together, too, so you can hear all about your little one's day as you eat. But until your little chef is cooking on his own, you need to teach him kitchen safety. Here's how to get started.

Home Cooking Lessons

  • 0- to 2-Year-Olds: Get them started early. Jory Lieber, creator of Teeny Tiny Foodie encourages babes over 6 months to taste ingredients (except for honey, which should not be given to any baby under 1 year old), since this practice will introduce these budding chefs to new flavors and textures. Toddlers can also stand on a safe stool or platform at the counter to mix room-temperature concoctions, which is a lesson in itself at this age. Have paper towels ready for spills!

    As soon as kids start walking, begin to teach them exactly what is safe to touch and what is not. Little kids should know where to stand to be safely away from that hot oven, such as an opposite corner or behind a line of painter's tape on the floor. Make it a game: loudly announce every time you open the oven or need to carry a boiling pot of water to the sink. Which kid can get to the safe spot the fastest?

    Want ideas for meals to make with your little one? Here are 18 Healthy Recipes to Make With Toddlers.
  • 3- to 5-Year-Olds: Once the kids are comfortable with normal pouring and mixing, Rice suggests going straight for the plastic knives. Teach your youngsters the "bear claw" method with plastic cutlery to instill safe skills early. Instruct them to use their dominant hand to hold the knife with a"chef grip," keeping their pointer finger on the top of the knife to stabilize it. Their other hand should form a bear claw to hold the food that is being cut -- fingers should be curled under, safely away from blade, and only the finger tips should be touching the food. The knife tip should stay on the cutting board, and your preschooler should move the blade up and down to chop. Start with cutting soft foods like bananas or avocados. At first, you will want to keep your hands on the knife and food along with them before letting them try on their own.
  • 6- to 10-Year-Olds: As your child ages, move to a real butter knife or steak knife (with constant supervision), and introduce firmer foods for them to cut, such as zucchini and apples. By the time your child is 8 or 9, they will be ready to use real knives. You'll want to hover heavily until you are absolutely sure they can confidently chop veggies themselves, and instruct them to use the bear claw method mentioned above. You'll still want to chop difficult shapes (like a whole watermelon) or very firm produce (such as butternut squash) yourself.

    Around 6 years old, kids can start to stir a hot pot with supervision, but they should know to keep elbows up when stirring to stave away lazy wrists that may get burned. Barnes also suggests that kids between 8 and 10 practice taking cookie sheets and baking dishes in and out of the oven while it is off and cool, but they should still use oven mitts so they can get used to the bulky protection. After they've nailed that, they can try it with hot objects.

With kids cooking, getting meals pulled together may look a little different, but you'll be building your kid's confidence in the kitchen and bringing your family closer.

Maureen Wise cooks regularly with her 3-year-old son whose favorite dish to prepare and eat is currently lemon marinated salmon. Wise is a freelance writer for multiple parenting and green websites and also works in higher education sustainability.

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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