4 out of 5 children are genuinely interested in the goings-on of a kitchen, and they are right to be so.
This is where the magic happens. A kitchen is where fruits and vegetables go in to come out as their favorite dinner food. Kids as young as 4 to 5 year olds can actually help their parents in the kitchen, if not in the exact cooking but in preparation and cleaning up.
However, most parents are afraid of letting their children inside the kitchen, and they are quite right, too. Boiling pots, knives, hot ovens – there are a lot of ways that your kids can get hurt in the kitchen. But that doesn’t mean they have to be completely banned from it.
If you can teach the children to be careful around the kitchen, they can truly become your perfect helpers. Who knows, they might end up becoming a professional chef in the future because their childhood interests were nurtured properly.
Kitchen Safety for Kids
The number one safety rule that children needs to remember is that they shouldn’t be allowed in the kitchen unless there is an adult present.
While it sounds lovely that your child might want to surprise you with a self-made breakfast, they shouldn’t be doing this alone without adult supervision until they are at least 8 or 9 years old. An adult or an older sibling needs to be present with them at all times.
So, teach your children to ask for permission or tell an adult that they want to before they actually step inside your kitchen.
The other points they should remember are:
- They’ll have to wash their hands before and after cooking, and several times in between. Children should also learn to carefully wash their hands after working with raw eggs, meat or fish, spices and peppers.
As they grow older, you can teach them to wash the ingredients they are cooking with, but not to wash away condiments and spices.
- If this is your child’s first time in the kitchen, they should start practicing cutting with the special plastic knives made especially for kids, not the real ones.
These plastic knives work just as real knives do, but the chances of a bad cut are greatly reduced. Your kids can practice cutting great chunks of potatoes, carrots or celery with their new knives before they go on to making finer cuts.
- Very young children do not understand what “fire” is and exactly how “hot” things can get in the fire. It’s not enough to just tell them to “stay away from the fire” because this is something that will always intrigue them more.
What parents need to do is to show children exactly what “fire” can do, by explaining to them how “heat” makes food cook because it is “hot”. When they understand the power of heat or fire, they will be more careful in staying away.
- If you use an old-fashioned burner stove or a gas-stove to cook, it is easy to understand just when it is going to get hot. An induction stove or a countertop is harder to comprehend.
So, if your kids are not usually careful with using the stove, it is a good idea to keep them away from the fire until they are older. They can still help with the preparation and the cleaning with you.
- Children not only love to help in cooking, but also to use the different appliances we have in the kitchen. Even something as simple as a blender, food processor or a kettle can be very dangerous to them.
If your children want to use it, you need to patiently teach them, one appliance at a time. Telling them to stay away will only make them more curious. But if you show them the mechanics of working with a blender or a food processor, and more importantly, show them the dangers – they will be more careful in the future.
- Give them their own apron, gloves and pot holders to use. If possible, use utensils where the handles don’t get too hot, because kids are going to forget using the pot holders sometimes.
Also, teach them to remove and hold the pot covers away from them, and watch out for hot steam coming from a boiling pot. Children may not understand that steam can burn just as much as fire or hot water.
- Some actions in the kitchen come naturally to us, but kids don’t even know about them. So, before they start helping out with the cooking, ask them to sit around and observe you for a few days at first.
As they learn from watching you, go on and explain everything you are doing in the kitchen, like “don’t put metal in the microwave because….” and “always turn the pot handle on the inside because …”. Don’t just instruct them and expect them to remember, but explain your actions so that they understand why.
Food Safety for Children
Not many children have a good idea about what happens to their grocery in the kitchen to make it turn into food. They have little knowledge about how to deal with food – raw or cooked, inside the kitchen.
From their very childhood, they take food for granted and eat everything that has been put in front of them. However, when they are stepping inside the kitchen for the first time, they need to know how to properly be safe around food.
These are the safety rules regarding food that you need to teach your children:
- Children need to wash their hands thoroughly before eating, preparing or handling any kind of food, as well as after. This includes raw food, cooked food, processed or packaged food, even a single cookie that they are taking out of the cookie jar.
- Not just the food, kids should know to wash their spoons, knives, cutting food, bowls and glasses, i.e. everything that would come in contact with food. Many kids like to lick their spoons clean before eating, thinking it would clean them, which is of course, not correct.
- Kids love to taste cookie dough and cake batter while you are baking, but this is not a very good idea. The raw eggs in the batter can be very upsetting for their stomach, but if they love dough very much, you can always teach them to make eggless cookie dough as a treat.
- Teach them the importance of keeping food cold in the refrigerator. Some children leave their food out in the open after they have half-eaten it, but they don’t know food can go bad in the open.
Parents need to teach them the importance of keeping their half-eaten food locked in a box in the refrigerator if they don’t want it to go bad.
- Teach your kids not to eat food that has been lying in the open without a cover. It may be a fruit or something cooked, but they shouldn’t eat it. In case of a fruit, they need to clean it thoroughly with water to eat it but if something cooked has been out in the open for more than 2 hours, it needs to be discarded.
- Cooked food should never come in contact with bowls, plates or spoons that had been previously used for raw food, without properly washing it first.
This increases the chances of cross-contamination, where the micro-germs from your uncooked food can enter the cooked food via the plates and the utensils.
- Food that you are going to eat raw, i.e. fruits, cheese, bread, chocolate etc. should be cut in a completely different cutting board than the one you use for raw meat and fish, as well as the knives.
Teach your children to do the same. In no way should raw food come in contact with the food you are going to consume directly from the cutting board.
- It is better to thaw frozen meat, chicken and fish in water than to defrost in the microwave oven, and these thawed item should be cooked immediately before germs began to grow in them.
As much as some children wants to cook or to help out in the kitchen, it is not in their nature to be careful or to be patient. Impatient and over enthusiastic kids can actually lead to accidents in the kitchen, but that doesn’t mean they should be barred from this magical place.
What parents need to do is to properly guide their kids to first watch, then help around the kitchen, and then finally learn to cook.
Cooking is something that most kids absolutely love to do at first, and they should definitely be encouraged by the parents, but they should also know the proper safety rules for cooking and for food before they try.