How to Keep Kids Safe in the Kitchen

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We’ve been teaching kids ages 5 to 16 in our test kitchen for more than 7 years now to help us test recipes for our kid’s classes. It’s been fascinating to watch them interact with written recipes and try their hands at new cooking techniques. Of course, there have been many surprises along the way, including the fact that many of these children had never cracked an egg before entering our test kitchen and most had never touched raw meat. Why? In many cases, it was because those activities come with a certain amount of risk or danger.

At SCC, we believe safety in the kitchen is about teaching kids to reduce risk—not avoid it. How are kids going to learn to make meatballs, for example, if they don’t get to crack eggs and handle ground meat? (We also believe that everyone should make meatballs!) With that in mind, here are some ideas and tools that can help you teach kids good safety habits in the kitchen.

Washing Hands –What’s the number one rule for kitchen safety? Wash your hands before you cook—and while you cook. Before getting started, and after touching any raw meat, poultry, fish or eggs, kids (and adults!) should wash their hands with hot soapy water for 20 seconds. How long is that? About the time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song . . . twice.

Teach Kids About Temperature –The second principle of kitchen safety is don’t guess when food is done. We use an instant-read thermometer to tell when proteins—meat, fish, chicken—are cooked through. During our testing, this instant-read thermometer was dead accurate and extremely fast. It makes the best of its size with a grippy, ergonomic design that’s reasonably secure and easy to push and pull out of dense foods.

Kids Need Their Own Knives –If your children want to cook, you need to teach them knife skills—how to hold the knife, how to position the hand holding the food, and how to make some basic cuts (like the difference between slicing and chopping). The 8-inch chef’s knife you probably use is too big for most kids. In our testing, tweens preferred the Mercer Pro 6” Chef’s Knife. This is a smaller version of our favorite chef’s knife for adults.

For younger children (ages 7 to 9) or kids with smaller hands, we recommend the Opinel Le Petit Chef Cutlery Set, which has a rounded tip and finger guard for additional protection. The wooden handle on our winning knife has a small finger hole that encourages kids to hold it safely and securely. The knife’s rounded tip protects kids from accidental nicks, and our kid testers liked that the blade “felt sharp” enough to cut through all foods with ease.

Using Tongs – Let Tongs Do the Work: People often ask me what’s the most essential tool in my kitchen. My answer: Tongs. They keep my hands at a safe distance while performing hundreds of kitchen tasks. Our favorite 12-inch tongs are too big for little hands, but there’s a smaller size perfect for young chefs. Pick up both the 9” Tongs with stainless steel tips (and the version with silicone tips if you have nonstick pans). As children become comfortable in the kitchen, they can turn cutlets as they cook or transfer roasted broccoli from a sheet pan to a platter.

The shorter version of our favorite 12-inch tongs, this model easily picked up foods of all shapes and sizes—from dainty blueberries to a hefty jar of salsa—and was extremely comfortable to operate.

Kid oven mitts –How to Handle Hot Stuff: One final safety item: oven mitts. Younger kids are best taught to leave the oven to adults. But as kids mature, they will be ready to take a pan of brownies out of a hot oven. But the oven mitts you already own are likely too big for your kids and therefore dangerous. The Harold Imports silicone mitts are designed to fit small hands and provides enough protection for kids to handle moderately hot cookware. Do teach your kids that even the best oven mitts don’t work forever (so work quickly) and oven mitts don’t work when wet (water conducts heat) so keep those mitts dry.