Teach kitchen safety to kids by teaching cooking skills

Posted July 26, 2011, at 1:57 p.m.

The kitchen seemed like a fairly harmless place — until I had children.

The knives, the open flames, the jammed toaster just waiting for some pint-size mechanic to enthusiastically probe it with a fork? They all filled me with dread.

For guidance, I recently turned to Katherine Cason, director of the Center for Healthy Living at Clemson University in South Carolina, who urged me to consider the upside of cooking with the kids.

“The kitchen’s a great place to learn about food, where food comes from, what you do with it — very basic life skills,” Cason said.

“I really think [kids] eat better if they’re involved in helping prepare something. It’s just like growing stuff in the garden — if they can see it growing and harvest it, they’re more inclined to eat it.”

She also points out that kids learn kitchen safety by, well, spending time in the kitchen as opposed to avoiding it entirely.

Even 2- and 3-year-olds can perform meaningful kitchen tasks under adult supervision, such as wiping tabletops, rinsing apples and tearing lettuce for salads.

Kids ages 6-8 can generally open cans, use a dull knife to do light chopping or melt butter — again, all with adult supervision, which should continue until at least age 12.

“A lot of it depends on your child as well,” Cason said. “There might be some teenagers who shouldn’t be using sharp knives.”

Still, as a general rule, kids can start using sharper tools in the 9-12 age range, Cason said. For me, fortunately, that’s still a few years in the future.

Age-appropriate tasks (all require adult supervision)

Age 2: Kids can wipe tabletops, pour measured ingredients and snap green beans.

Age 3: Pour liquids into batter, mix ingredients, knead or roll out dough and wrap potatoes in foil for baking.

Ages 4-5: Mash a soft fruit with a fork, beat eggs with an eggbeater or whisk, cut parsley or green onions with dull scissors and cut fresh fruit with a blunt knife.

Ages 6-8: Gather utensils and ingredients, do light chopping and open cans.

Ages 9-12: Operate small appliances like blenders and microwave ovens, do moderate chopping and saute, pan fry, broil and bake.

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