My kids have been in the kitchen with me from the moment they were old enough to stand, unsupported, on a chair. By nature toddlers want to be where there parents are, so if Mama is in the kitchen, the kids usually are as well.
We only baked together at first. I walked through our steps, having them help tip things into the bowl or even stir. And yes, I let them have some chocolate chips.
Soon enough, though, they wanted to be with me while I ran the race of getting dinner on the table. It wasn’t always easy, and I’ll admit, there were times when Tony Hawk videos on You Tube or that horrible purple dinosaur were brought into play just so I could get the meat cut without fear of little hands getting into everything.
Generally, though, I would rather take longer to get dinner on the table if it means having time with my girls, especially since I’m in the office all day. So instead of waiting until I had a six or seven year old - an age many other moms told me were appropriate for cooking – I set out to teach my toddler some kitchen safety and a few kitchen basics beyond dump and stir.
All photos by Cheryl
This didn’t mean that I left her alone with a chef’s knife and a pile of onions while I went to tackle laundry (and I still don’t). No, I pulled a kitchen chair into the kitchen, set some basic rules, and stood behind her as we tackled the ingredients for stew, panzanella, or her sister’s baby food. Together.
Four Rules for Your Child
These are the fundamental rules I set in place to be followed when my toddler is in the kitchen:
No Hands on the Cutting Board
If they are merely observing what I’m doing or even helping with meal prep, their hands are not allowed to rest or move on the cutting board. Or touch anything on the cutting board. This holds for whether I am there or not.
When we are actually cutting together, that is a different story, but they understand this rule as a fundamental one and they view the cutting process as having a different set of rules.
Do Not Take the Knives out of the Knife Block
Only Mama gets to do this. Little hands not only can’t comprehend the correct way to pull a knife out safely (up and out, not down and out) but they have no concept of the weight of a knife.
Use Two Hands When Cutting
I find that my kids instinctively want to only use one hand to cut – the one holding the knife. They have a self-preservation technique hard-wired. So we are working on actually holding the food they are cutting with one hand, fingers tucked in, and using the knife in the other.
Keep the Knife on the Cutting Board
Do you ever watch the pros slice and dice so quickly that you wonder how the heck they do it? Watch closely, they aren’t lifting the knife between every single cut. Instead, they use a rocking motion. Now, I don’t think your 3-year old is going to win any speed contests, but take that principle to teach them, and yourself, to keep the knife, point down, always on the cutting board.
Not only does this minimize the potential for flailing or turning with any distraction like the dog or a baby sister, it also minimizes the kidlet tendency to hack away at items.
We keep the number of rules to these 4 only. It works easier as a mantra and any more than that is complicated to most toddlers or young children. But there are also a few tips to make this more enjoyable (and less stressful) for you, the parent.
Three Reminders for the Parent or Supervisor
Your pieces won’t be uniform or perfect. So what? Your kid helped you cook. And that goes a long way to having them embrace food.
The night to cook with your kids is not soccer night or just before you are rushing out the door to dance class. Try this on the weekend, when everyone is a bit more relaxed and there is no time push to getting dinner on the table. And start your prep earlier than normal to allow for the necessary safety lessons and supervision.
Use Sharp Knives
Yes, I am serious about that. Sawing away at a carrot with a butter knife is far more dangerous than supervising a little one with a sharp paring knife. In this case, size matters. While I wouldn’t chop with a paring knife, preferring the 8 inch blade of the chef’s knife, the smaller 3-4 inch paring knife is perfect for little hands.
Still nervous? Ease into it with having your kids use the vegetable peeler, tear lettuce, or shred cheese.
All of these tips really apply regardless of the age of your kids. If they’ve not spent much time in the kitchen with you, then you need to start with the basics. Pull up a stool next to you and getting cooking with your kids.
|Easy Greek Salad||
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/2 medium sized red onion
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp dried oregano
- 3 tomatoes
- 1 red pepper
- 1 long english cucumber or 4 salad cucumbers
- 1/2 red onion
- 1 cup crumbled feta
- 1/2 lemon, juiced
- pepper to season
- Mince garlic and thinly slice the red onion. Toss with olive oil, vinegar, and dried oregano. Set aside until you are done the rest of the chopping. I do this first, then call the girls in to help. Mincing and thinly slicing onions are tasks best left to the adults.
- Chop the tomatoes, pepper, and cucumbers. Toss with feta, onions and lemon juice. Add in olives and/or lettuce here if desired.
- Serve at room temperature.
What are your prep tips for cooking with kids? How do you feel about equipping your youngster with knife skills?