I see it every day – when kids take ownership of their food, they make better food choices and expand their palettes. Trying new foods and eating healthier – it’s what we as parents all hope for, right? A key way to start helping our kids build confidence and independence in the kitchen is to learn how to safely handle and use a knife.
At Figlia, we take knife safety and skills very seriously – each child must understand the knife safety rules below and how to appropriately hold and use a knife. I use two simple methods, the “Claw” and “Cross Chop” to teach. One of my favorite chefs who work with kids, Jamie Oliver, has a great video to demonstrate. You can watch it here.
A great recommended starter knife is the Curious Chef’s knife – cuts through food, but not skin. As children learn the basics of holding and cutting, they can advance to small chef knives. It’s also important to note, that sometimes, even with good knife safety and skills education, an accidental knife nick may happen (it’s happened to all of us right?). It’s important to stress upfront before handling a knife, that accidents may happen, so that the child doesn’t get too surprised and upset and lose confidence. Of course, when a knick occurs, the adult must immediately assess the cut and take proper action. Most knicks are minimal though, and I have found it’s very important to reinforce confidence in the kitchen by reassuring the child they are OK, and to continue with their practice after cleaning and bandaging.
Proven Tips for Cooking with Your Kids:
First, as the parent, you need to be calm. If you are freaked out that your kid is about to hack off his finger, you are unlikely to make your son or daughter feel ready for a new culinary challenge. 🙂 Here are a few tips that should help you feel better:
- Pick a time when you are not rushed and can be patient with your child. For example, trying to teach knife skills for the first time when getting dinner on the table for your family, is not a good idea! 🙂
- Clear off your work surface. It should be empty of everything except for a large cutting board, your cutting tools and the ingredients you are working with.
- Make sure that everyone has had a snack before starting your cooking project. If you are starving, you are likely to rush your child, and that won’t help her feel relaxed about the task at hand.
- Be sure you are doing a cooking project with your kids that is within your comfort zone. There is no shame in starting small and then working your way up.
Knife Skills and Safety Tips for Kids:
- Use a larger cutting board than seems necessary for the ingredients you are using. It is harder to cut items if you feel crowded.
- At home, if anyone has to carry a knife, be sure to point the tip towards the floor. However, at Figlia, the kids are not allowed to carry knives. We always remove the knives from them to carry to the sink.
- At Figlia, the kids are not allowed to touch the knives unless they are cutting with them. During instruction, they are not allowed to pick up their knives.
- For the “cross chop” and the “claw” fingers are either always tucked in or on top of the knife.
- Always hold the food you are cutting with one hand, while the other hand uses the knife.
- To hold your knife, grip the base of the knife blade, just in front of the handle, with your thumb and index finger. Wrap your remaining three fingers around the handle of the knife. Act like the knife is an extension of your hand – get up close and personal with your knife
- When cutting, start with the blade area near the tip of the knife. Instead of cutting straight down, run the knife through the vegetable or meat by sliding the knife away from you while exerting downwards pressure. Depending on the thickness of the items you are cutting, you will finish halfway or near the butt end of the blade. I always tell my students, we aren’t sawing wood – let your knife glide away from you!
- Always make your objects stable before cutting. To make your objects not wobbly, slice them in half (or cut off a thin piece) so that you can put the object on their flattened side.
- Be sure your knives are sharp. Yes, that sounds counter-intuitive for working in the kitchen with newbies. But when you use dull knives, you have to push much harder.
- Keep knives clean. Just like on counters and hands, lingering bacteria can cause illness. Proper cleaning of a knife can be tricky. Be sure the blade and point are kept away from the body and a soapy sponge is run along the “wrong” side of the side. But don’t leave knives at the bottom of the kitchen sink – this is a sure way to cut yourself.
- Never Lick the Blade. It’s tempting but it could end in disaster.
- Wear closed toed shoes when you are handling knives.
- This isn’t the circus – don’t try to catch falling knives!