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Safety Tips
While cooking is a fun and rewarding experience for kids, the kitchen can be a dangerous place for the inexperienced. However, with proper planning and close supervision, your child can safely learn the valuable cooking skills that they will use throughout their life.

The first, and most important thing to do is establish clear ground rules for using the kitchen, and be sure that they are strictly adhered to. Kids should only cook with permission, and when an adult is home and present to supervise - never when they are alone. There are certain things that adults must always do - kids are never to turn on stove or oven or use knives by themselves.

As a general rule, kids under the age of 12 or so should always be accompanied by an adult. If you are at all unsure of your child's specific abilities, always be cautious and perform the questionable tasks yourself - especially when knives or heat sources will be involved.

Set a Good Example

As with most things in life, kids will learn by imitating you. It is important that you set a good example for them to follow. If you are careless in the kitchen, they will be more likely to pick up unsafe habits. Pay extra attention to the proper ways to do things, and keep in mind that while you may have the experience and judgment to determine what is safe and unsafe, your children do not. Some examples of what not to take for granted:

  • Dont carry knives. Dont use the phone or carry on conversations while using knives. Dont drop knives into a sink filled with water.

  • Dont leave food unattended on the stove, even though you may know how long it should cook for.

  • Dont reach into the blender or insert utensils while the blender is running.

  • Dont reach into the bowl of a stand mixer while it is running. Stop the mixer if you need to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

    Before beginning to cook, it is important to demonstrate the proper use of all cooking utensils and instruments. Show kids how to use and how not to use everything that they will need for the recipe they are going to cook. Let them watch you first, and then have them demonstrate how they will use the item themselves.

    General Safety Tips for Kids

    Be sure to go over general kitchen safety with kids of all ages. Stress that they first thing to in the event of any fire is get help. Be sure that you have a working fire extinguisher nearby and that the kids know where it is and how to use it. Explain why they should not throw water on a grease fire on the stove. Make sure that you have a first aid kit on-hand, and that you understand basic first aid yourself. With that covered, here are some additional safety measures to take with your children:

  • Wear proper clothing: short sleeves, or roll up long sleeved shirts; an appropriately sized apron , closed-toed shoes no sandals; tie back long hair and remove any jewelry that could get caught

  • Invest in kid-friendly equipment whenever possible: mixing bowls and cutting boards with non-skid bases, utensils and knives of the right scale, peelers and other tools with non-slip grips, safety graters, oven mitts that won't slip off.

  • Providing younger kids with something to stand on will usually be necessary for them to reach the counters. However, it is very important that they do not need to reach for items which may cause them to lose their balance. Whenever possible, try to set up a lower work surface or kid's table where they can comfortable work. A sturdy stool or chair that won't slip out from under them can be used to better reach the counter for performing some tasks. Kids should only stand on the floor, and never on a stool, when using knives or while at the stove, where they may to place their hands down for balance.

  • Read recipes through from start to finish. Decide which parts are appropriate for each child based on age and experience. Get out all of the ingredients and set up the equipment that they will need with them before beginning.

  • Discuss that knives, and other sharp objects are dangerous and should not be handled without permission. Use real equipment in the kitchen, not imitation versions of things so they appreciate the difference and do not get confused.

  • Eliminate all distractions when they need to concentrate, including the TV, animals, and other kids. Music can be fun to listen to while cooking, but know when it is appropriate and when it is not - young kids can easily lose their focus when they are having fun. Older kids and teenagers may like to cook with their friends, which should be encouraged as long as they are supervised and careful not to show off or lose concentration.

  • Remember that toddlers and preschoolers can choke on many foods, so be conscious of what is around, even if they aren't directly involved in the preparation process. Chunky vegetables, bite sized fruits, and anything with pits can be hazardous. Make sure kids sit while eating, and that any food that they will be eating is cut into small pieces.

  • Go slow and ask lots of questions. Learning to cook is not something that should be rushed. Encourage kids to take their time and ask any questions that they may have so fully understand everything that they are doing.

    Food Safety

    Protecting themselves on the inside is just as important as protecting themselves on the outside. Explain what germs and bacteria are and why it is important to work clean and safely in the kitchen. Discuss what types of foods are especially important to be careful around, and go over the following food safety instructions:

  • Wash your hands before handling food in hot, soapy water. Always wash your hands after handling raw meat. Discard packaging from raw meats as quickly and keep the kitchen as clean as possible while you are working.

  • Explain what cross contamination is, and be sure to thoroughly wash cutting boards, counter surfaces and any tools or equipment that came in contact with raw meat in hot, soapy water. Also, do not to reuse towels, sponges or any other absorbent item that came into contact with raw meat without washing.

  • Make sure meat is cooked thoroughly before serving. Have an instant-read thermometer on hand to test cooked food yourself. Do not let food sit out - keep hot foods hot, and cold foods cold.

  • Do not eat while cooking with meats and eggs to avoid ingesting any harmful bacteria. Batters with raw eggs are not safe to eat before cooking.

    Using Knives

    Beginning working with knives is something that must be strictly supervised at all times. It is critical to stress that young kids are never to touch sharp knives in the kitchen, and older kids may only use knives after they have been carefully trained, and only when accompanied by an adult no matter what their age. Learning how to safely use a knife is an important skill that older kids and young adults should learn, but it is important that their curiosity and excitement be carefully managed throughout the process.

  • When working with knives it is best not to mix different aged kids while teaching, as it is natural for younger kids to want to participate with their older siblings. Even if they are not trying to use the knives while you are present, younger kids may try to imitate what they observe when you are not present.

  • Well before kids are old enough to begin using sharp knives, they can start learning the basics of knife skills using dull butter or table knives. They can progress to more serrated table knives, or plastic serrated vegetable knives as they improve.

  • When you are ready to begin using sharp knives, demonstrate how to properly hold and use a knife - especially how to keep fingers curled and away from the blade. Let kids practice holding knives and cutting on soft fruits or vegetables.

  • Use a cutting board with a non-skid base, or place a damp towel underneath a smooth cutting board. Dont use old, or dull knives, they can require extra pressure when cutting and may slip, causing injury.

  • Reiterate that kids should never walk with knives or other sharp tools. And when they are finished using the knife, they should never place if down near the edge of counter or in the sink.

    Working with Heat

    There are plenty of recipes that you can make using raw or prepared ingredients that do not require cooking with heat. Making salads, sandwiches, and frozen items is a good way to begin cooking with younger kids. Also keep in mind that most recipes require prep work that can be done by kids and then you can finish the cooking process if they are not ready to do so themselves.

    Eventually learning to cook will require using the stove and oven, and with close supervision, older kids can learn to safely cook with heat. Take the time to explain how the stove and oven work what is hot, why it is hot, and how long it will be hot for. Instructing them on how things work, and why they must be careful will help develop good habits.

    The most important rule for kids to remember is that they should never turn on the stove or oven without your permission. Here are some more tips on cooking safely with heat:

  • Never leave anything unattended on the stove or in the oven. Turn off burners when removing pans from stove and set a timer so you do not forget when food will be done.

  • As alternatives to full-size stoves and ovens, try using toaster ovens and microwaves where appropriate. Consider buying some countertop appliances such as electrics skillets and griddles that will allow kids to safely work on lower surfaces with a better view.

  • Even if you think they are ready, do not allow younger kids to cook at the stove if they are not tall enough. Reaching over burner can be dangerous, and they should never use a stool at the stove, where they may need to put their hands down to balance.

  • When using the stove, keep pot and pan handles turned in so they do not get caught on people passing by. Do not attempt to lift heavy items off of the stove or out of the oven, hot liquids can easily spill over the edges and scald.

  • Use potholders or oven mitts whenever handling hot items. Make sure that oven mitts do not get wet, if they do ask for a dry one. Have a cooling rack ready to put hot pots and pans on when they come off of the stove or out of the oven.

  • Stress that the oven and stove are hot even after they are turned off. The burners, oven door and surrounding areas may all be hot for a long while, be careful not to put anything near them that could catch fire. Pots and pans that were used for cooking will also be hot, dont touch them with your hands until you are sure they are cool. Its a good idea to leave a towel or oven mitt right on the pot or pan so you remember.

    Other Appliances

    Countertop appliances can provide a safe way for them to get involved in the actual cooking process. Younger kids can be fascinated by electric machines, but you should resist the temptation to let very young kids press the buttons when operating - it is important that these items are not viewed as toys. Get in the habit of unplugging all countertop appliances when they are not in use, and storing out of site where possible.

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  • Food processors and blenders contain very sharp blades that should never be handled by young kids. Make sure than older kids know how to properly empty the bowls and do not inserts utensils into the machines while in use.

  • Electric hand mixers can provide a fun way for kids to help with making mixes and batters. With proper guidance, younger kids can help hold the mixer while mixing in a bowl. Older children can safely use themselves. Stand mixers should only be used by adults and older kids. Younger kids can dump ingredients in when the mixer is turned off, but they should not operate themselves.

  • Microwaves are a good way for kids to cook some foods that would otherwise require a stove or oven. Young kids should not use without supervision. Make sure to discuss what types of cookware is microwave safe with older kids that can use it themselves.

  • Other specialty cooking appliances, such as countertop grills, panini presses, waffle makers, slow cookers, rice cookers, skillets, griddles, ice cream makers, bread makers, and toasters can usually be safely used by older kids with supervision. Be sure to unplug and store away from younger kids when you are finished using.