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Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen
Helping Your Older Children Get Started In the Kitchen

by the Paranoid Sisters
It's hard to let our kids grow up and become independent. It seems we shelter them so much more these days and don't put responsibilities on them like our parents used to. We joke around with our eight year-old daughters, "When we were your age, we had to clean the dishes and vacuum the house." They roll their eyes and respond, "Yeah, right." As they skip off to play with their friends. We look at each other and shake our heads, who's joking. We're actually speaking the truth. By the time we were twelve, we were making spaghetti and cleaning toilets. Hey, our single-mom worked full-time and it wasn't going to get done if we didn't help.

As paranoid parents, we tend to hold back our kids from doing chores or other activities because we think they are too young to handle it. So when my eight year-old daughter (Lori speaking here) and her girlfriend told me they wanted to make me breakfast and that I wasn't allowed to come into the kitchen I had to really resist my paranoid tendencies to protect them and let them have at it (with a few concessions of course!).

This was not easy. I really waffled between their safety and their need for independence. So I established the first ground rule, I vetoed the "No kitchen access" request they had made. I explained that they were not old enough to have full access to the kitchen without my supervision. I needed to keep an eye on them so if they needed help or ran into problems I would be available. Inside I vowed to hold back as much as I safely could. I stayed in the family room that joins the kitchen and folded laundry (Now there's something she could help with - no safety risks involved). I stayed just close enough that I felt good and didn't impede their need for independence. Thirty minutes later, with only a couple of interferences by me, I had a lovely breakfast waiting (slightly cooled, however) of scrambled eggs, toast, juice, sliced bananas and strawberries along with a flower from our garden placed on the table by my four year-old son who was helping.

If your older kids are looking to start helping in the kitchen, here are some safety rules to cover with them before they begin slicing and dicing:

  1. Adult supervision is a must. According to the National Fire Protection Association, cooking is the leading cause of home fires and home fire injuries in the US, so it is especially important to pay close attention when you are in the kitchen. Children need to be supervised in the kitchen, and taught how to handle appliances properly. You also have to know your own child's abilities. Some twelve year-olds may not be as well-equipped to cook as a mature, responsible eight-year old.

  2. Be sure kids are dressed appropriately. They should be wearing short or tight-fitting sleeves. Tie back long hair.

  3. Teach them the basic safety rules: Turn cookware handles inward so they won't be pulled off. Never throw water or flour on a burning pan or fire. Don't try to do too many tasks at once. Focus on one portion of the meal preparation at a time. Never leave cooking food unattended.

  4. Have a fire extinguisher nearby.

  5. Be sure they are not lifting items that are too heavy, especially hot ones that may cause burns.

  6. Be clear on which kitchen items they are allowed to use and which ones are off limits.

In addition to our list we recommend you review the following recommendations from the The National SAFE KIDS Campaign:

1. Before entering the kitchen, ask your child to identify all the dangers in a kitchen. What is sharp? What is hot? Does your child know that getting an electrical appliance wet can be extremely dangerous?

2. Having a child in the kitchen means constant supervision at any age. Do not attempt to do something else while your child is experimenting in the kitchen. Even older children need "off-hands" supervision. A parent should remain close by to answer any questions or to watch for dangerous mistakes.  The kitchen is not the place to "learn by your mistakes".

3. When it comes time for cutting consider an enclosed manual chopper rather than a knife. The chopper makes the job safer, cleaner, and in most cases faster and easier. An adult should do any cutting with sharp knives.

4. For younger children use all plastic or stainless steel utensils, mixing bowl included.

5. There is no set age that a child is ready to do anything. Children progress at different rates for different things. The best bet in the kitchen is to start off with projects that are easy to make and do not require the oven, stove, knives or electrical appliances. For example, before a child graduates to an electric mixer, start off with an egg beater. Introduce bigger jobs one at a time. After your child is comfortable in the kitchen you could include the electric mixer. When this is mastered add something else.

6. Never use dangerous equipment like a deep fryer. Children should never be present in the kitchen when one is plugged in. If you do have a deep fryer or are going to purchase one, consider the new models with safety locking lids.

Following these tips will certainly keep things from "heating" up too much as we help our children learn and grow.

Written by The Paranoid Sisters, Lisa Carter and Lori Marques. With six children between them, they have become safety monitors in their own homes, and are now passing along their knowledge to other parents and caregivers. "Our goal is to increase awareness of safety issues and reduce injury to children by reminding parents and any person caring for children of potential hazards," say the two sisters.

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