Kids with knives – It doesn’t sound like a great combination, right? Most parents spend the first few months of their young child’s life trying to find out the best way to keep the knives away from the kids. But here’s the thing: If you can teach your young ones good knife skills (including a proper respect for sharp knives) at an early age, they’ll be less likely to have knife accidents later. Plus, being self-sufficient with the foods that they eat is a real confidence builder.
So how do you get started? We’ve broken it into three different levels: The first level is for toddlers, or for the parents who don’t feel confident with knives and kids. The second level is for preschoolers, gradeschoolers, and for those parents and kids who are fairly confident in the kitchen. The third level is for the parents who are ready to go all in with their kids in the kitchen, as long as everyone is willing to follow the basic safety rules.
Level 1: Kids can begin as early as age two with plastic starter knives. At this age, they won’t be doing much real prep work, but they can definitely cut their own food and they may be able to help chop foods like watermelon. These brightly colored easy-grip knives from Ikea (part of a rainbow-colored utensil set) are a good starting point. Have your little ones sit or stand with you as you show them how to use the knife (grasping the handle with one hand, holding the food with the other hand or a fork, and never waving the knife around). Then they can experiment on a cutting board or at their own plates. Our kids loved using these knives to cut all sorts of soft foods for themselves including sandwiches, meatballs, fish, hamburgers, cheese, pancakes, avocados, and especially bananas.
Level 2: When your kids move out of the toddler stage, they’re ready to learn more about real chopping. Michelle over at What’s Cooking with Kids has some great suggestions on helping kids develop knife skills. She emphasizes the importance of setting the stage: clearing the counter, making sure your cutting board is big enough, and wearing closed-toed shoes (!).
Michelle recommends (and we also like) these kids’ knives from Curious Chef. The nylon blades with a cerrated cutting edge as a whole are pretty foolproof (and they don’t have as much of a “kiddie” look, which is good news for your too-cool kids). The only drawback is that you have to cut with a sawing motion rather than the more traditional rocking chop that you would use with a chef’s knife. But for getting kids involved and preserving peace of mind, these are great starter knives.
Level 3: When you feel ready to introduce your kids to “real” chopping, Cheryl from Backseat Gourmet (writing at Simple Bites/Kids in the Kitchen) has some even more great tips for kids and knives. She uses real knives with her kids, with a set of four main rules (no hands on the cutting board while someone else is chopping, only Mom takes the knife out of the knife block, use one hand to hold the food and one hand to chop, and keep the knife touching the cutting board). This last rule will help them learn the proper rocking motion, and it will also keep them from getting distracted and waving the knife around. She also advocates using sharp knives (yes, it’s more dangerous to saw away with a butter knife than it is to make clean cuts with a sharp knife). You may need to have them use a smaller paring knife rather than a large chef’s knife for chopping.
Ready to chop? Great! You might enjoy making something from this list of 8 salads that kids will love from Raise Healthy Eaters. We also love this Grilled Rosemary Chicken Chopped Salad from Phyllis Wheatley Elementary School – it was submitted as part of the Recipes for Healthy Kids challenge from Let’s Move. There’s plenty of chopping involved for all of your little helpers. As their teacher/helper, you can help them choose the recipes or invent their own. Just remember to keep it safe, stay relaxed, and enjoy the process.