Monday, February 7, 2011

Special Rules, Special Tools, and Eyes Wide Open!

There are some special considerations to take when including children in meal preparation.  Sharp knives, hot burners and blazing ovens present some very real hazards.  Not to mention the fact that kitchens are designed for adults who are at least 5 feet tall.  So how do we accomadate short legs, developing motor skills, and no judgement?  The only way I know how is with some special rules, some special tools, and eyes wide open.

The presentation I attended a few months ago provided me with a couple of solutions that have proved invaluble thus far.  The first of which dealt with the short leg issue.  How do you teach a kid who is 3 - 4 feet tall to do anything in a kitchen where the countertops are barely at eye level?  The first thought that might come to mind is, very simply, a chair.  Don't think I hadn't thought of this myself, I just found early on that it really didn't work.  I don't know about your kitchen chairs, but mine don't exactly grip the floor.  They are meant to glide easily in and out of place.  So here is my first rule: If they can slide it across the floor, they shouldn't be standing on it!  The reasons for this rule should be obvious.  For these same reasons, I don't like to move much work to the kitchen table.  A sturdy step stool that has rubber grippers on the feet, and a non-skid surface for them to stand on is essential.  It is also essential that those little chefs be raised up to about waist height over those countertops.  They need to be able to get over their work.  This will put them in the best position to stir without spilling and get enough leverage to chop fruit and vegetables properly.  Basically, they need to be able to see what they are doing just as you do.  If you don't believe me, next time you prepare a meal, try to do it while crouching down so the counter top is about chest level.

There are several suitable options for this sturdy step stool, and the prices range anywhere from $15 to $100.  Like most young and growing families, we live on a pretty tight budget, so we chose two good, step
ladder type, stools made by Rubbermade.  The cost for both was under $50.  These fold up nearly flat for storage and when unfolded, they lock into position.  They are solid, heavy, and they have steps that are big enough for an adult to stand on comfortably.  We needed two different stools because we have 3 kids of varying heights.  If you have a larger budget and a larger kitchen, Pottery Barn has a nicely made stand that can be adjusted as your child grows.  I have seen these in other people's homes and I love them.  If you are leaning towards the stand, you should consider that although two kids can fit on one stand, they end up being a bit too close to each other and would also need to be about the same height.  The only other thing to consider is that the stand is more or less a permanent structure.  It's not easily broken down and put away, so it needs to be able to stay wherever it is set up until your kids are about 12 years old.

The second issue that was addressed is the sharp knife issue.  We have all learned, (usually the hard way) that if you run a very sharp edge across your skin at a certain angle, it will result in a deep cut and lots of blood; lots of pain shortly follows.  This knowledge is almost second nature for anyone 8 and up, but for those little souls who are under 8, the deep cut, blood and pain are a pretty big surprise.  Any parent would worry about the damage that a sharp knife could do to their kids, and I'm no different.  Especially after watching them weild their silverware at an average meal.  I have watched all of my kids poke themselves in the eye and ear with both spoons and forks, as well as draw these supposedly safe utensils across their necks, so there is no way I am putting a well honed blade into their hands!  Fortunately, some genius inventor out there had those same thoughts and came up with a tool called the Kiddie Food Kutter.  This little kiddie knife looks like a paring knife with a very dull, wavy blade.  The handle is the perfect size for little hands, and the "blade" is duller than a butter knife.  The wavy part  kind of mimics a serrated knife in a cartoony kind of way.  When I first saw this thing, I actually burst out laughing.  I honestly thought there was no way anyone could cut anything but a banana with it!  But the amazing lady who was giving this presentation proceeded to quell all doubt by cutting potatoes and carrots with it.  Needless to say, I was convinced.  The only two places where I've been able to find these knives are and Pampered Chef.  Solely for financial reasons, I chose the Pampered chef version.  Although my kids could still put out their eyes with them, there is no possible way they can cut themselves, or each other for that matter.  They are safely able to learn how to cut anything but meat, and hopefully the difference between large chunks and a small dice.

There are literally hundreds of things to think about when you have little kids in a kitchen, but many of them should be common sense and are covered under this next rule: never leave your children unsupervised.  Kids don't come with a highly developed sense of self-preservation, nor are they very coordinated.  I have watched my kids spontaneously fall down, trip on lint, walk into walls, check to see if a fire is hot, chat up creepy looking strangers, eat candy found in an aiplane lavatory, and lick a public phone.  Many times when their grandparents are gushing about how smart they are, these are the images that come to mind.  While children are virtual sponges who absorb new information so fast most of us can barely keep up, I wouldn't exactly call them smart.  You don't need to treat them like the village idiot, but you should communicate with your kids, give them the guidelines before trouble is imminent, and don't let your guard down.  Warn them that you are going to open the oven and that it is very hot and can hurt them.  Yes, you need to do this every time.  Tell them, before you even get started, that only grown-ups get to touch sharp knives and that if they choose to disregard any of the kitchen's rules, the consequences will be immediate.  Yes, you need to do this every time.  Stay alert and keep your eyes wide open.  If you need to leave the kitchen for any reason while burners are on or knives are resting on counters, take the kids with you.  Yes, you need to do this every time! 

Teaching your kids and helping them to grow and mature will always be at odds with keeping them safe and un-maimed.  Nearly every aspect of parenting that I know of, is a balancing act.  I am always trying to balance letting them have the room to explore and learn with keeping them out of harms way.  Sometimes it's pretty easy, and other times it's very hard.  With proper preparation, a couple of specialized tools and nerves of steel, teaching your kids to cook can be fun and safe for all of you.

1 comment:

  1. There's a "cooking with kids" display at the Columbine Library. I saw it on Friday & thought about you. :)