As the holiday season approaches, cooking as a family is a great way to create tradition and make lasting memories. Children can safely help out in the kitchen too, but parents must pick the right tasks for each child’s age and skill level.
Teaching kids to cook, safely
"Parents and caregivers should make sure the kitchen is safe before cooking begins, and your little sous chefs should always be supervised in the kitchen," says Britney Lombard of Safe Kids Colorado. "Simply being in the same room as a child is not necessarily supervising. An actively supervised child is in sight and in reach at all times."
Burns, such as those from spills, steam, hot surfaces or a flame, can be especially devastating injuries that may require medical attention and even surgery. In fact, a recent study found that seemingly kid-friendly instant soups and noodles burn almost 10,000 kids each year.
Young children have thinner skin than adults do, and therefore burn more severely and at lower temperatures. "Thermal burns from contact with a hot surface or a flame cause the greatest number of burns in children," adds Smith. "However, children age 4 and under are hospitalized in burn centers more for scald burns from hot liquids, while children ages 5 to 15 are hospitalized more for fire and flame burns."
When should kids learn to help in the kitchen?
Children who can follow directions may be ready to help out in the kitchen with tasks that do not involve knives, appliances or heat. "You know your own children. Don't give them knives or let them handle anything hot until they have shown the maturity and coordination to do it safely," says Smith. "Some children mature faster than others, so it's up to parents to use good judgment about each child's capabilities."
Kitchen safety for kids
Here are some general guidelines for kitchen activities that children of certain ages may be ready to handle:
Cooking with kids ages 3 to 5
Young children can:
- Get ingredients out of the refrigerator and cupboards
- Stir ingredients together in a bowl
- Pour liquids into a bowl
- Rinse foods under cold water
- Use a cookie cutter to cut out shapes in dough
Cooking with kids ages 6 to 8
School-aged children are able to:
- Use a butter knife to spread frosting, peanut butter or soft cheese
- Peel vegetables
- Measure ingredients
- Stir together ingredients in a bowl
- Set the table
Cooking with kids between 9 and 12
Around the age of 9, kids can:
- Begin to follow recipes
- Use electrical kitchen appliances such as blenders, food processors, electric mixers and microwaves
- Help plan the meals
- Open cans
- Squeeze garlic from a garlic press and use a grater to shred cheese and vegetables
- Turn stove burners on and off and select oven temperature when an adult is present
Cooking with kids older than 13
Beginning at age 13, teens can:
- Operate the stovetop without adult supervision
- Drain cooked pasta into a colander
- Remove a tray of cookies from the oven
- Heat food in the microwave without adult supervision