To recognize National Nutrition Month, we are delighted to publish this guest post from blogger, Daniel Sherwin, of Dadsolo.com.
It is an exciting moment when children get old enough to start helping in the kitchen. There is a whole new world of activities that they can be involved with, and they are enthusiastic to help you. From food preparation to cooking and cleanup, there are all sorts of activities to learn. But, along with the excitement comes a high level of responsibility, for you and them. There are many utensils and appliances that they can use, but many that they should handle later on with more experience. Whatever they may be doing, kitchen safety, including emergencies, should be taught alongside of baking a cake.
When beginning to teach a child about handling items in the kitchen, you should always start by showing them how to safely do each task, the good and the bad. You don’t want to frighten them unnecessarily, but they need to be aware that certain actions have consequences, and you’re trying to prevent something severe from happening. Even if it is something seemingly simple like using a toaster, they should know that it needs to be set away from objects like paper and cloth towels because it is hot, and it should not sit directly under a cabinet; it could start a fire. Teach them that they should never leave the kitchen unattended when using appliances, even if everything seems safe. Be sure to point out where it is safe to touch when in use, and let them know that it needs to cool down before they return it to where it needs to be stored. Explaining why they need to do each of these steps and what happens if they do not follow the rules is essential to kitchen safety.
If you’re at a stage where you’re teaching your child how to use a knife, start with a very simple task and an appropriately sized knife. Something small and not overly sharp is ideal, so if there is an accident there is only a minor injury, and not something that requires a hospital. Give them something soft and easy to cut at first, like a cheese stick for example. Show them how they need to hold the food so it doesn’t move around, and not cut too close to their hand or toward themselves. As they listen and have a chance to do it themselves they’ll get better, and you can slowly give them other foods to slice, and eventually a sharper knife to do it. Of course with anything, explain to them what happens if they don’t follow the rules and if they’re not paying attention, and what to do if they do cut themselves.
There are a lot of utensils that are designed with safety and kids in mind. Generally, kitchen items aren’t made for us to easily hurt ourselves, but when a child is just starting out, there are some items that may be worth investing in. From vegetable peelers to potholders, there are a ton of items you can purchase. A lot of companies also use bright colors and other fun designs like animal shapes to make the utensils more appealing. This is also great for keeping children excited about using them, since it makes the work of being in the kitchen a little more enjoyable along the way.
Sometimes, even when following all of the rules in the kitchen, accidents happen. It can be scary, but teaching your child early on how to handle these emergencies is vital. As a precaution, testing your smoke detectors regularly will ensure they’re always functioning properly. If you ever need to take a smoke detector down, be sure to put it back up immediately after. This is an important safety feature in your home and should always be in operation. Keeping a fire extinguisher in the kitchen is highly recommended. Check the expiration date on it to ensure it will work if it is needed at some point. Run your child through how to use it. It is fairly easy to use, but if you have the money you could even buy an extra one so you and your child can learn how to use it together, when there is not an actual emergency happening. Sometimes you don’t need the fire extinguisher to take care of a flame, if it is still in a controlled setting. If a grease fire starts it should be smothered by covering the pan in order to deny the fire of oxygen, and never throwing water on it since it can cause it to spread. But, when in doubt, it’s better to be safe than sorry and go ahead with the fire extinguisher. There may be a lot of cleanup involved, but that is always better than losing a home or even a life.
Working in the kitchen with your child can be a lot of fun, especially when they are rewarded with the food they helped prepare. Keeping it fun for them will help keep them interested, but like with any job, there comes a certain level of responsibility, and it’s strongly recommended that they learn the hazards of the kitchen along with the joys. If you take it slow, teach them a little at a time, and let them develop their skills, you’ll soon have a happy little kitchen helper.