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Cooking tips and hints:

Child Kitchen Safety

Click to visit VeggieCooking.com I worry about kids these days. So many families are dependent on processed foods that many children are raised without regular access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Instead they eat food out of a box or fast food wrapper -- laced with chemical dyes, flavorings, colors, and preservatives, including more than a few carcinogens and excitotoxins. We already have epidemics of heart disease and cancer among their parents and grandparents, but children of today have even worse diets.

Children raised to cook for themselves at least have the tools to break this dietary destruction in their own lives. And so I am always happy to hear about children being taught to cook, even happier to hear about those raised in vegetarian, organic, or whole foods households. But before letting kids loose in the kitchen, they need at least some training in kitchen safety. Things that seem like common sense to adults are not yet habits in their children.

Starting slowly is the obvious course -- allowing the child to rinse vegetables, set the table, stir ingredients, and so on. All of this needs to be learned, and asking kids to "help out" frequently gives them good practice. But eventually, in order to handle cooking for themselves as adults, even the "grown up" cooking techniques have to be learned and practiced in the home.

Knife safety is very important, for example teaching children to always keep their fingers away from the blade, until this becomes a habit in them. They should set knives aside when washing them, outside of the dishwater, or put them point down in an automatic dishwasher's silverware rack. When pressing on the dull edge of a large knife to cut, it's a good habit to double-check that the sharp edge is actually pointed down. There have been a few times as an adult that I almost pressed the sharp edge of a knife, and mistakes in the kitchen aren't uncommon even among adults.

Another big issue is working with kitchen machinery. Electric beaters may not be sharp, but they can be just as dangerous as any sharp piece of machinery. Children should be warned of the extreme dangers from putting hands down garbage disposals, in blenders or other food processing equipment, or in juicers. Although this sounds like common sense to adults, children might not think of unplugging an appliance and using a tool to unclog it, unless safety was stressed before they were allowed to use it.

Working with heat is another issue. Proper placement of pot handles so that they can't be knocked off of the stove accidentally or pulled down by a smaller child or pet is an obvious concern. Splash-back from food, always using potholders to touch hot pans, double-checking that a stove or oven is turned off when finishing use -- these are second nature to adults, but need to become regular habits in children.

Other simple things like asking an adult to do heavy lifting, food temperature and spoilage, wiping up spills, and so on, will become automatic if a child is allowed to work alongside adults in the kitchen, especially when adults spend time explaining various issues to the child.

Also, I think there should be some minimum age before a child is allowed a large sharp knife to use in the kitchen. I think it may have been age 12 before I was allowed completely unsupervised in the kitchen. At minimum, an adult should work alongside a child, observing his or her habits on several occasions before turning the kid loose in the kitchen. And even if the child has developed enough responsibility to handle cooking alone, of course it's ALWAYS a good idea to have an adult nearby for emergencies!

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[Original page posted 17 February 2005]
© 2005 by Pam Rotella

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