By: Wendy Ross
Bringing kids into the kitchen is more than a fun way to bond with your little ones. Getting kids involved in cooking gets them excited about healthy foods, teaches them skills for independence, and frees you from fetching snacks every 10 minutes. However, the kitchen can also be a dangerous place for young children, and keeping them safe means providing clear instruction through every part of the cooking process. Here’s what you’ll need to cover when inviting your kids to the kitchen:
Being Safe Around Appliances
Kids should be taught the dangers of a kitchen from a young age. From hot stovetops to sharp blades, there’s a lot that can hurt little hands in the kitchen. Very young children should be taught to never use appliances without Mom or Dad’s permission. As they get older, kids can be instructed on how to safely use simple appliances like the microwave and toaster. Make sure you cover how not to use them too — for example, kids should be instructed to never put metal utensils or aluminum foil into the microwave, or to remove food from the toaster using silverware.
Once kids are old enough to start cooking on their own, discuss oven safety tips like pointing pot handles inward and always using potholders, not towels, to handle pots and pans. If you have a gas stove, instruct children to never attempt to relight a pilot light on their own.
You can start teaching kids knife skills earlier than you might think when you use kid-friendly knives. Start kids out cutting fruits and vegetables that are easy to grab and slice, such as bananas and cucumbers. As they master the basics, introduce trickier foods that require more strength or finesse, such as strawberries or potatoes. To compensate for their short stature, let kids do their cutting and slicing while seated at the kitchen table, rather than the counter.
Keeping Food Safe
Food safety may sound like a complex topic for growing brains, but it’s important for kids to know what is and isn’t safe to eat in the kitchen. Hand washing is an easy place to start, as little kids will be familiar with the concept of washing away germs from their potty training knowledge. From there, you can explain the difference between cooked and uncooked foods — for example, why it’s safe to eat cookies but not to eat cookie dough — and the importance of keeping raw meat separate from your veggies.
Handling Kitchen Emergencies
Before kids are allowed to cook on their own, parents need to discuss how to prevent and handle kitchen emergencies. Kids should learn what to do if they receive a burn or cut, how to find and use the fire extinguisher, and why they should never put water on a stovetop fire. Discuss the importance of never leaving the stove unattended, and consider installing a camera in the kitchen so you can monitor kids’ tasks from a distance. Make sure children understand the importance of preventing fires and when it’s time to call 911. And of course, before kids ever head into the kitchen solo, ensure that all smoke detectors are in good working condition.
There’s a lot to cover when it comes to kids in the kitchen. Introduce topics gradually so children can hone one skill before moving onto the next, and consider your kids’ ages before adding more responsibility. Toddlers and young grade schoolers are best off helping Mom and Dad under heavy supervision, but as children near middle school they should be ready to start preparing foods on their own. Most of all, keep the lessons fun and light — learning how to cook should be fun for you and your little one.
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