For kids and adults alike, life is a continual opportunity for injury. Some activities increase the likelihood of injury more than others and although cooking is not the riskiest hobby, accidents can happen. When kids are in the kitchen, it’s important they know the rules so they can have a safe, owie-free experience.
Two of the biggest potential pains causing culprits in the kitchen are tools and heat.
Heat from the stove and tools like knives or food processors are essentials for lots of recipes. If you’re cooking with kids, both temperature and tool concerns need to be addressed. Age is one key indicator of a child’s readiness to use a particular tool or the stove, but it shouldn’t be the only indicator. We all know our own children and their skill levels; there are five year olds that are conscientious enough to use a knife and eight year olds that shouldn’t be trusted alone with a sharp fork. Once you’ve decided if your son or daughter is ready to use a particular tool, make sure you demonstrate how to use it and review the safety rules. The oven and stove are obvious kitchen dangers, too. Remember, knowledge is power. Show your kids the hot vs. non-hot parts of the stove so they know what how not to get burned.
Another safety consideration to emphasize is keeping things clean. Hand washing and isolation of raw meats like chicken are must-have habits for a healthy kitchen. Make it a habit to go to the sink and wash hands every time you cook anything, even a peanut butter sandwich, and it will become second nature for you and your kids. And, when preparing meat, I recommend a separate cutting board that is dishwasher safe and making sure all hands and tools that touch the meat are promptly washed and/or moved to the sink. Tell your kids why you’re handling meats like this as well. This is another area where information is key; kids like to know ‘why’ just as much as adults. If they know something can make them sick, they’ll avoid it.
There are a couple of other kitchen dangers that I like to mention as well. They seem seem innocent, but can end up causing tears or a trip to the emergency room:
1) Ingredients like pepper, garlic or onions can cause some serious eye burning if there is contact. If you work with ingredients that are spicy or ‘hot’, it’s best to make sure an older child who has been warned of potential dangers handles them. If a younger child helps with this hot-stuff, make sure you are right there next to them so they don’t start rubbing their eyes. And, make sure everyone who touches these ingredients washes their hands immediately after contact (eye rubbing + onion hands = crying child).
2) Stool, chairs and counters seem harmless; Most of the time they are, but the memory of New Years Eve 2008 remains in my memory forever. It was 9:00 a.m. on December 31, 2008. Sophia and I were in the kitchen making some coffee for me. Sophie was only five years old and was shorter than she is now, so she stood on her trusty Strawberry Shortcake stool. Approximately 2 minutes after getting on her stool, she promptly lost her balance and fell off, breaking her right arm (for the second time in her short 5 years of life, by the way). We spent the rest of New Years Eve in and out of the Hospital. Stools can be tippy; kids can fall off chairs and counters. We all know to be aware of it, but continual reminder to the kids helps them remember.
As parents we all have to come to terms with the fact that accidents happen. Kids can, and do, get hurt. Providing structure, information and rules give kids valuable resources when working in the kitchen. So, make sure your kids know the rules and your family cooking experience will by fun, tasty and SAFE!