Spending time in the kitchen with your child can lead to a lifelong love of cooking and baking and prepare your kid to be self-sufficient. It can also lead to wonderful shared memories.
However, the kitchen is full of potentially dangerous tools, so it’s important to make sure kids understand how to stay safe.
Nobody wants their kitchen creations to make others sick. Learning to prevent foodborne illness is a great first cooking lesson. The food safety basics include keeping hands clean, washing hands in soapy water often, not licking fingers, keeping raw and cooked items separate, and avoiding cross-contamination.
Remind your child to never put cooked food on a platter that has touched raw food without washing it first, and always wash hands before and after handling raw meat, chicken or seafood. Tempting as it is, never taste uncooked food (kids will try anything!) to avoid getting sick. Also, keep long hair tied back so it doesn’t fall in the food, and avoid loose clothing or jewelry. You don’t want a surprise earring in your soufflé!
There’s obviously a lot more to food safety than a few tips can explain. The FDA has a handy guide to food safety for kids, including games and videos to help drive home the information.
Safely Using Cooking Tools
With so many tools that can be hazardous, you may be hesitant to let your kid loose in the kitchen. But if he or she understands how to use kitchen tools carefully, you’ll feel more confident in his abilities.
There’s no specific age for children to use potentially dangerous items because children all mature at different speeds. But before age 11, children can’t anticipate events they haven’t yet experienced, and they can’t respond properly if something happens. This has nothing to do with your child’s maturity: It’s just a fact of brain development.
- Sharp tools - Tell your child that you will be his assistant with sharp items. Remind him which items will require assistance, such as knives, food processors, peelers and the like.
Older kids should learn proper technique and cutting skills. When cutting, always keep the blade pointed away from the body and keep fingers away from the blade. Hold tight to the handle, and don’t watch TV while using a sharp object. You want the child’s attention entirely on the task at hand!
Some items, like food processors and mandolins, you might need to set up for him. Blades for these appliances can be extremely sharp and wily.
- Microwaves - We all know to never put metal in the microwave, but kids may forget which items contain metal. Teach your child which cookware is microwave safe. This is about more than just saving your bowls -- things cooked in certain plastics can melt into the food, or they might have a small amount of metal that your child doesn’t know about, which can start a fire.
Always remove items from the microwave slowly and with a potholder -- food and bowls in the microwave get very hot. Perhaps give your child his own set of potholders to get him excited about using them.
- Stoves and ovens - Electric and smooth-top stoves are naturally safer than gas stoves, but that doesn’t mean kids can’t use gas stoves as long as they know how to use them properly. Your child should not ever lean over the burner to work the knobs. If he isn’t tall enough, he should always ask for help. Remind your child to never leave items cooking on the stove when leaving the room, and he should NEVER light the pilot light. That is for grown-ups only.
- Fire safety - Teach your kid proper fire safety in the kitchen. Water should never be used on a grease fire (use baking soda), and sometimes a fire can be stopped just by putting a lid on a pan and denying the fire oxygen. But he should know exactly where the kitchen fire extinguisher is and when to use it, or when to just get out of the house and call 911. If there’s an oven fire, close the door and turn off the heat immediately. Take extra precautions and test your smoke detector at least every six months.
- First aid - Basic first aid is important for all kids to learn, but even the most careful cook can get burned (who among us hasn’t grabbed a hot pan without thinking?). Kitchen injuries are more common than any other home injury, so he should know what to do about cuts and burns. Burns should be put under cold water immediately, and he should NEVER put butter or oil on a burn. Minor cuts should be washed and have pressure applied until the bleeding stops. If your older child cooks at home alone, he should learn when to call for help or to visit a trusted neighbor to make that decision for him.
Learning to work in the kitchen can be a deeply rewarding experience for kids. By giving them the proper safety techniques and rules, you ensure a better comfort level and avoid the risk of injury.