Establishing Kitchen Safety Rules for Your Kids

While teaching your kids to be self-sufficient is never a bad idea, and most children can start learning to dress, bathe, and clean up after themselves from a young age, the average parent is understandably reluctant to let kids into the kitchen for lessons in the culinary arts. While allowing them to help with simple tasks like washing dishes, mixing dough, and adding ingredients is fairly safe, taking it to the next level by letting them handle cutlery and appliances is a whole other story – one that could end with a missing finger, a serious burn, or a house on fire. Of course, you’ll have to trust your kids with such tasks eventually if you want them to grow into capable and confident adults that can take care of themselves. But until then you might want to set some ground rules to keep your kids safe during their time in the kitchen. Here are just a few policies you should put in place.

1. No cooking without a parent present. There will be many, many rules associated with using the oven and range. 1) Roll up sleeves and tie back long hair. 2) Always use oven mitts. 3) Hold pot handles when stirring. 4) Double check that all burners are off when finished cooking. And so on and so forth – there will be lots of rules when kids start cooking that are meant to protect them (and your home) from harm. But the first and most important rule is that they should not turn on the stove when you’re not there to supervise. Period.

2. No running with knives. This sounds pretty obvious, but you might be surprised by some of the foolhardy things your kids will do without considering the possible consequences. In any case, this is really part of the larger issue of safety when handling sharp objects, which could also include holding the knife by the handle only (not the blade) and never turning it on someone else (a sibling, for example). Safety first is a good motto where sharp blades are concerned.

3. Check expiration dates. Teaching your kids how to spot mold and smell spoilage is a good plan for keeping them from getting food poisoning. But you should also teach them to read food labels so that they can determine whether or not an item has expired. This could be just as important as being able to detect when food has gone bad, or even more important considering that there might not be any visual or olfactory clues to help them.

4. Wash hands before (and after) handling food. Your kids are into all kinds of stuff throughout the day, from science experiments to the local swimming hole, and all can be populated by dirt and bacteria that you wouldn’t like them ingesting. So teach them to wash hands properly before handling food (sing the birthday song twice through while sudsing for optimum cleanliness). However, they should also scrub up after handling certain items (meat, for example) that could carry bacteria or parasites.

5. Fire safety. Fires are a possibility when anyone cooks, but inexperienced chefs may be more prone to accidents. Unless you want to find yourself perusing because half your kitchen went up in flames, it behooves you to cover fire safety with your kids, including where the fire extinguisher is and how to use it, as well as an exit strategy should a fire get out of control.