I’ll be honest: I don’t get excited about kitchen safety. But I feel like I have to give a lecture on it before I can start the fun stuff. All my cooking classes begin with these.
Kitchens are dangerous places, but I think that the risks can be minimized and made age-appropriate and that the benefits of cooking are significant enough to make a little bit of risk worth it. Here are my big four pieces of advice:
1. Impress on your child the danger of heat, glass, blades, etc. and hold a higher standard of serious behavior in the kitchen. Discourage rough-housing or sloppy habits that put your child at risk.
2. Prepare for emergencies by having tools (fire extinguisher, baking soda, broom, salve, etc.) available. Make sure your child knows how to use them. Discuss possible scenarios and what to do before they happen. In particular, make sure your child knows how you will handle an electrical or oil fire, since the natural “just throw water on it” approach is ineffective and even dangerous.
3. Even though your child will know how to respond to an emergency, you should be close enough to be the one to actually respond. You teach your child so a) he won’t mess up your attempts at response (by running in fear around broken glass, putting water on an oil fire, etc.) and b) he will be equipped in the unlikely scenario that you are unable to respond to the emergency.
4. Let your child see you handle blades, hot pans, etc. many times before you ask him to do so.
The other advice is mostly simple, common sense stuff.
-Put a cloth under cutting boards to stabilize them.
-Slice the bottom of veggies before cutting so they can stand without wobbling or rolling.
-Until kids are truly competent with knives, have them use a fork to hold vegetables that are being cut.
-For kids who are too young for knives, vegetable peelers, dental floss (for doughs), and pizza cutters can be safer (though not risk-free) options.
-Shoes are non-negotiable in the kitchen with children.
-Teach kids to keep pot handles turned toward the back of the stove.
-Keep things dry and clean (especially the floor).
-Don’t rush or let yourself pressure your child. That’s when mistakes happen.