Maybe your kids are at that age where they’re antsy to roll up their sleeves and help in the kitchen. Whether they’re begging to give you a hand in preparing Sunday night’s pasta dish or asking you to let them mix the cookie batter for an upcoming family party, it’s always exciting to watch your children grow up and want to take on household responsibilities.
However, despite the excitement, you may also be concerned about their safety in the kitchen. After all, with cooking comes sharp knives, hot stoves, boiling water, and more. As such, you’re probably wondering about what’s truly safe for them to use (and what tools they should avoid).
Luckily, there are a number of kitchen utensils that are expert-approved and safe for your kiddos, and ones you can even keep in a kid-accessible drawer to keep their interest in cooking curiosity sparked (and fingers unscathed). Coupled with kitchen safety rules, your kids will learn the joy of preparing meals at home (and will be able to assist with clean-up, too, which is always appreciated).
Adult Kitchen Tools Kids Should Never Use
To start, it’s probably most important to know exactly what kids should never use in the kitchen.
“I wouldn’t let a kid use a chef’s knife until they were properly trained to handle and respect it,” Meg Panchame, a BAKE! instructor at Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, Michigan, tells Apartment Therapy. “Sharp or dull knives can be a very dangerous tool if you don’t understand how to handle them properly!”
Anika-Kafi Summers, M. Ed., the Nutrition Education Director at Eastern Market Corporation, agrees. “Dull knives should be removed from the household and sharpened,” she says. “It is safer to have a sharp knife that slices clean than a knife that needs a lot of pressure to do the same job.”
In addition to chef and dull knives, experts recommend that children should never handle a mandolin. “They are extremely sharp and therefore dangerous,” Summers says. That goes double for box graters, food processors, and vegetable peelers — all tools that are supposed to be sharp, and therefore pose greater risks.
Safe Kitchen Tools for Kids
“There are lots of tools kids can use in the kitchen that don’t require supervision,” Susan Chagas, another BAKE! instructor at Zingerman’s, tells Apartment Therapy. She recommends starting little ones off with rolling pins, wooden spoons, mixing bowls, small offset spatulas, whisks, bowl scrapers, plastic dough dividers, blunted pastry wheels and cookie cutters, and pastry bags. Be sure to show your kids how to use these tools one at a time, and keep an eye out for little fingers every time they reach for their tools.
Age is an important factor to keep in mind as well. Summers recommends different tools for different ages.
“Younger children (ages one through four) should have a lower kitchen cabinet with everything they can ‘cook’ with: pots, pans, plastic bowls, small skillets, rolling pins are great, wooden spoons, and spatulas,” she says. And don’t forget to model how to use each item as you go. As you stock the cabinet, think of “everything that parents and other adults in their lives [are using] because they are mimicking you,” Summers notes.
For kindergarten through third grade, Summers recommended keeping things as simple as possible. “This is the age of the little people to put everything on lockdown,” she says. “They want to help, help, help, help, and have no attention span. Give this age group easily doable kitchen tasks that they will succeed at such as helping to make the cookies by mixing the batter with the hand-mixer.”
According to Summers, the tools can get a little more safely complex the older your child gets (though always be careful to supervise as you go).
“Fourth through eighth grade is when using more complicated kitchen tools becomes more fun,” she says, adding that this is typically the age where you can begin introducing safety habits, such as checking that nothing is inside the stove before turning it on, and practicing go-to recipes until they get the hang of them.
This is also the age group where you can truly get your kids more interested in the culinary arts. “They are also creative and may want to search the web for new and exciting recipes to try out,” Summers says. “If the parent can encourage their child’s culinary interests this is a great time to invest in cooking classes, or new cooking gadgets for the family.”
Should you create a kid-accessible cooking drawer?
All three experts agree that establishing a kid-accessible cooking drawer or cabinet is a great idea — just be sure to make sure it’s at an appropriate height for your little one.
“It may mean less risk of falling to try to reach something,” Panchame says. “Also, it establishes which tools are safe and OK to use.”
Beyond safety, having a cooking drawer accessible to your kids may inspire curiosity, creativity, and a love for cooking. “Another bonus to a kid-friendly drawer is that it creates ownership and excitement about baking and cooking at home,” Panchame adds. “I’d keep a bowl scraper, a hand whisk, a rubber spatula, an offset spatula, and a set of oven mitts in the drawer.”
As Summers notes, your kids are watching everything you do. Since kitchens are a high-traffic area of the home, odds are they will be spending as much time there as you do, and learning along the way. “Parents are always in the kitchen, and if you are there, your kids will be there too,” she says. “The kitchen should be a place of joy and love. It is the heart of the home and family so create that space.”
Making the kitchen a joyful and creative place not only creates happy memories, but also teaches responsibility. Showing your kids how to take pride in their food creations is a great way to kickstart a sense of initiative while also having fun and eating tasty creations.
“My kids always loved to ‘get ready’ to cook or bake by getting their own tools together. They can take ownership of making delicious food and sharing,” says Chagas.
Kitchen Safety Tips for Children
Safe cooking goes beyond properly handling kitchen tools; there are a number things kids should be keeping in mind to stay safe in the kitchen.
“Always assume something is hot before you grab it!” Panchame says, stressing that includes everything from pot handles to metal utensils you’re storing next to your oven. “Also, always announce to anyone else in the kitchen when you have something hot or sharp in your hand. Say ‘Hot!’ or ‘Knife!’ loudly so there’s no confusing who has the right of way, especially in a small space.”
When your kids get older, Summers says that keeping a firm list of kitchen rules is wise, such as setting time limits when the kitchen is available to your teens. A no-cooking-after-9-PM rule can come in handy if you want to keep your kitchen clean, so late-night cereal bowls offer a no-cook alternative . “Anything that does not involve the oven, stove, or boiling water in the microwave” is within reason, she says.
Summers also says that running in the kitchen is always a no-go, and stressed the importance of learning how to safely pass a knife. And, of course, whoever did the hard work of making dinner does not do the dishes.