I’m get excited about a lot that goes on in the kitchen, but nothing trumps my passion for getting children involved in food prep. Children are endlessly curious and are natural learners, and they are more likely to try new foods if they have a hand in the cooking process; however, this curiosity tend to scare parents away from having their kids in the kitchen due to fear of extra messes, injuries, and ruined recipes. It may take a bit of extra effort and planning, but kids can usually handle more in the kitchen than most people think, and the payoff is more than worth it: they’ll learn an invaluable life skill, have a huge leg up on a healthy future, and eventually, you won’t have to cook dinner for yourself every night. Before you step into the kitchen, here are six safety tips to keep in the mind when you’re cooking with your wee ones.
1. Plan enough time to cook so that you aren’t rushing your kids. You don’t want to bring you newly appointed little sous chefs into the kitchen when you only have 15 minutes to cook a meal that usually takes 20 minutes to make. Go into your first few cooking sessions expecting to have more of a mess than usual to pick up, and take the time to explain the whats, whys, and hows of what you are doing to your child. If you’re stressed or pressed for time, you and everyone around you will end up frustrated; wait for a day that your schedule allows for a more relaxed atmosphere.
2. Keep all pots and pans on the stove turned so that the handles are facing left or right, not pointing out towards you. This will eliminate the risk of walking too close to the stove and knocking over a pot by bumping into a handle that’s extended over the front edge of the stove.
3. Handle potentially dangerous items properly in front of your children. I have been known to lick knives, use a mandolin slicer without a guard, and use a paring knife plunged into a hot chicken for a few seconds and then quickly pressed to my lips to tell if the meat is cooked through, but I can’t do that in front of my young kids if I want them to make it out of the kitchen in one piece. Lead by example and they’ll have a better understanding of what is and what isn’t allowed.
4. Be aware of clothing and hair around open flames. Loose shirts and loose hair are a very, very bad idea around a lit gas stove for obvious reasons. Keep the clothing fitted, the hair tied back, and wear an apron for an added layer of protection against hot liquids.
5. Clean as you go. Less clutter translates to less confusion and helps you and the kids keep track of where anything sharp or hot might be.
6. Don’t let the kids get bored. Give them tasks at or just above their level of ability. A bored toddler will start reaching for anything he can grab before you even see it coming, so let him peel cloves of garlic (give them a couple of light smashes on the counter under the heel of your hand first to loosen the skin a bit), help measure and dump ingredients, retrieve and put away ingredients, throw trash away, tear lettuce for salads, cut bananas with a plastic knife (assisted or unassisted), shake jars to blend salad dressings, sprinkle garnishes onto dishes, and stir pretty much anything with assistance. Preschoolers and kindergarteners can learn to crack eggs, peel carrots with a safe peeler, get their hands into different doughs, help roll out and cut cookies, use some appliances with assistance, and help identify when food is done cooking. If there is downtime during cooking, keep it interesting by opening up a few spice jars and letting the kids identify the spices by smell, or have a two minute dance party in your kitchen while you wait!
Now I’d like to hear from you! How old were you when you first learned to cook? Are you comfortable having children in the kitchen? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments!