How to Cook with kids – Safety for Jr. Chefs

How to Cook with kids - Safety for Jr. Chefs (ages 2-6)

Cooking in the kitchen with kids can be a lot of fun. However, I have talked to many parents that keep their kids far away from the kitchen due to all the potential dangers. There are a lot of safety concerns for kids in the kitchen but for our family, keeping them out is harder than letting them jump in. It has also led to some great memory making and relationship building. Although you may not be comfortable handing your child the oven mitts of chef’s knife just yet, I’m confident every parent can find a level of “help” in the kitchen that they are comfortable with.

If you are nervous about letting your children in the kitchen it could be a helpful start to look around your kitchen at all the things that worry you. Make any changes you can to make the room generally more kid friendly. For example, move knives and sharp utensils far out of reach. Get a stable chair or stool that children can climb on to be able to reach the cooking area better. Make sure cords are out of reach and cabinets are locked that you do not want them to have access to.

Make some general rules for your kitchen. Whether they are in the food getting a drink or helping you with a recipe, there will be some general rules in your kitchen that your children probably already know. For example, my kids know that they cannot use sharp knives. They are only allowed to use butter knives. I am sure as they get older and I become more comfortable with them using knives I can teach them this skill. As their guardian you know them best and you will know when they are ready for the next step with knives or anything in the kitchen. Make sure that kids know that cooking in the kitchen is not something they can do independently yet and that they need your permission.

Before you begin, make it a routine to wash your hands before eating or doing anything in the kitchen. In fact, washing their hands is normally something my kids do at least five times per recipe when I catch them licking their fingers, coughing or doing anything where their hands touch their face. They get annoyed easily with how often they are sent to wash but it’s just mandatory if they want to keep cooking. Along with clean hands, make sure any long hair is pulled back out of the way and they aren’t wearing a favorite outfit without an apron because cooking almost always gets at least a little messy.

Preparation goes a long way when cooking with kids. They can help you prepare by taking out all the ingredients, measuring spoons, bowls and mixers you will need. Once the process gets started with kids they tend to want to move fast and having everything ready can help immensely. Preparation can also include reading through the recipe aloud with your children and reminding them of any rules that will come into play for the given recipe. For example- if you are using a stand mixer, what are you comfortable with them doing? Can they turn it on and scrap the edges or is this an appliance that they can watch but not touch?

Some common kitchen rules for this ages are:

  1. Hands and fingers off the counter or out of the way when there is a sharp knife in use. It is just too tempting sometimes for kids to want to grab a bite of something right after it is chopped and I don’t want to run the risk of their fingers slipping under my knife. Little hands and fingers must be completely out of the way.
  2. Ovens- Children must be far away from the oven when it is being opened. When it is time to put food in the oven to cook it is normally already preheated and very hot. Not only does it radiate heat, but the oven door pulls down to be accessible to little fingers and curious hands that may not realize what part is safe to grab and what is burning hot.
  3. Stoves are harder to more difficult to avoid children being around. Find what you are comfortable with and stick with it firmly. No matter what you choose- teach your children repeatedly how hot the stove. If you are comfortable letting them stir ingredients inside the pan make sure they know what parts of the pan are hot and how to grab the handle without burning themselves. Always keep handles towards the back of the stove when the pans are not being moved so that they are not accidently bumped.
  4. Climbing on cabinets- Kids are natural little climbers and will often climb on cabinets or step on an open drawer to help them reach a cup or ingredient stored high in your kitchen. Make a rule that you are comfortable with to help them obtain ingredients or objects in high locations safely.
  5. Raw meat- for this age an easy rule is to simply not allow children to work with raw meat. It is too easy for kids to transfer bacteria or get sick themselves so let them do the other ingredients but keep procedures with raw meat for the adults.
  6. Kitchen sinks are often out of reach for kids. Helping with dishes or getting water from the sink is nearly impossible without making a watery mess. Have a stool set up in a nearby bathroom for children to wash and dry their hands independently without creating a slipping hazards in the kitchen.

Once you dive into the recipe, put away ingredients and clean up after every step. Have a clean rag handy for spills. Having a “trash” bowl on the counter an also come in handy. It’s much more convenient for butter cube wrappers and egg shells instead of trying to keep the trash cabinet door sanitary and can just be faster and easier.

The most common cooking skills that children can master and enjoy at this age (along with the safety rules of the kitchen) are measuring, dumping, and mixing. Beginning with dumping ingredients in that you have measured there is not much that can go wrong with your supervision. Next, teach them to stir. Give them a large spoon that is easy for them to grab and teach them to stir slowly and scrap the edges of the bowl. Lastly, when they are responsible enough to measure the ingredients teach them how to level the measuring spoon and always keep track of how many and what they have added to the bowl.

Throughout the entire process, remember to communicate! Read the recipe out loud and explain what you are doing. Explain the steps to them and divide up responsibilities depending upon abilities. Check and recheck aloud what has been added to the bowl. Try to involve them as much as possible so that when they are old enough you will trust them to take over more and more responsibilities in the kitchen on their own.

With enough practice, you will gain confidence to allow children in the kitchen with you and with preparation and rules in place, you will be able to relax and enjoy the time with them.