Involving your little chef in the kitchen means allowing her to measure, stir, sprinkle, and yes, eventually chop. While the thought of knife-wielding children may cause your heart rate to speed up, we encourage you to take a deep breath and read through these ideas for developing the cutting skills of your young chef in safe, age-appropriate ways. Even toddlers can help you prep in the kitchen when given the proper instruction and the right child-friendly cooking tools.
Before little chefs handle any knives, it’s important that they know the rules of knife safety and your own personal house rules. Repetition of the rules helps commit them to young minds, so take advantage of natural opportunities to repeat the rules; better yet, have your chefs say them to you as well.
Here’s a few base rules you can work off of:
- No using knives without an adult’s approval and attention
- Knives are only to be used in the kitchen or designated areas (to taking the knife to your room!)
- Knives are to be treated with caution and care
- Only use adult-approved kid-friendly knives (Keep your young chef’s knives in one place to help differentiate approved versus adult-only knives.)
Don’t forget that knife safety isn’t just about when a knife is in use, but also when a knife is not in use. Little chefs should be instructed on how to safely set a knife down while working and where knives should be placed when they are done cutting.
Practice before Performance
When teaching little chefs how to hold a knife, there’s no need to reach for the sharpest one the very first lesson. Butter knives are excellent tools for teaching kids the proper end of a knife to hold and how to form a good grip. Table knives, which usually have dull, rounded edges, can be used for practice with Play-doh or soft foods like bread and bananas. For more serious fruit and veggie prep, introduce a kid-friendly kitchen knife that will get the job done but won’t cut skin.
Setting Up for Safety
When you are ready to teach your little chef to use a real knife, you’ll want to spend some time preparing for the lesson. This doesn’t mean you have to buy a chalkboard; rather, the environment should be set up with safety in mind.
First, you should have plenty of room for the two of you to move without bumping into one another. Second, your little chef should be at a good height for cutting; that is, his chest should be above the height of the cutting surface to enable full range of motion in his arms. It’s not safe to cut on the floor, where the angle of vision is looking down. Third, use a non-skid cutting board that is at least double the size of the object being cut. Doing so will create a more stable place for cutting. Finally, make sure your child is using proper kid-friendly knives that are the right size for the task and will actually cut real food.
The best way to teach your little chef to use a knife is to model first and then supervise their practice. You will need to start by showing your little chef how to grip the knife safely and how to position his hand by curving his fingertips around the food he’s cutting.
Next, you’ll want to show your chef the various ways to use a knife, using the kinds of fruits, vegetables, and herbs she will most likely be asked to help cut. Over the course of many cooking sessions, you can instruct your chef on how to slice lengthwise, and as they get older, how to score fruits, how to chop, how to dice, and how to mince.
Becoming an Expert
Repetition and practice are the two components of mastery. Once you have introduced knife safety to your little chef and modeled the use of knives for her, don’t put the knives away for another year. Allow your little chef to regularly participate in cutting up ingredients for meals so she can continue to develop her skills and comfort with knives.