Getting into the kitchen with nutrition activities for kids is one of the best things you can do for their health and yours. It emphasizes the importance of real food for kids, kitchen competence, and family connection.
But safety needs to be a top priority, to navigate potential dangers like sharp tools, electric gadgets, and high heat. These kitchen safety tips for kids can help you get your kids involved in cooking with safe kitchen tools for kids and teach them about nutrition, without exposing them to any dangers.
Establishing health and safety rules for cooking with kids will help them feel more comfortable and confident. Kids may moan and groan about rules, but boundaries give them the security they need to creatively explore. Create your family kitchen rules together for the best buy-in.
In this article, we’ll talk through my top 15 kitchen safety rules for cooking with kids. Teaching your children to navigate the kitchen with confidence will lead to a lifetime of invaluable skills.
1. Always supervise kids in the kitchen
Whether you are cooking with toddlers, children, or teens, having an adult close by to oversee, guide, or help if something goes wrong is important.
Obviously, your tiniest chefs will need direct assistance, but as older children become more independent, it’s best practice to at least know they are cooking, and be in the vicinity.
As kids show they have mastered this list of kitchen safety tips, you can increase their freedom accordingly.
2. Following instructions
The kitchen is a great environment for teaching kids the importance of listening and following instructions.
Drive home the safety rules, the expectations for the task at hand, and any specific guidelines BEFORE and during your time preparing and cooking food together.
As your children demonstrate that they can and will follow directions, they can be trusted with more responsibility — kids thrive off of just the right amount of autonomy.
3. Safe clothing for kids while cooking
This step is easy to overlook, myself included. Ideally you and your children should:
- Remove jewelry
- Avoid loose clothing
- Wear an apron
- Tie long hair back
- Cover your feet — shoes help avoid burns from spills, or punctures from dropped knives
Kids love playing dress-up, and a chef hat or special apron are perfect gifts for young chefs.
4. Getting kids to wash their hands
If your kids are anything like mine, they are always in a rush to get started. They want NOTHING to do with washing their hands first. But, no washing, no cooking.
Remind your kids that clean hands are a big part of food safety. If we want our food to nourish us rather than make us sick, then washing off potential germs is a must.
5. Safe food handling
Not only is it important to wash your hands, it’s also important to rinse fresh produce. Unless you picked it out of your own garden, you don’t know where that food has traveled and what it has met along the way.
Safe food handling also means treating raw meat and raw eggs with special care. Avoid:
- Contaminating cooked food with raw meat and raw eggs.
- Mixing of raw meat with food that will remain uncooked.
- Using the same cutting board, mixing bowl, or knives for raw meat and other foods.
The policy with raw meat and eggs is to use a designated cutting board or mixing bowl that are immediately washed in hot soapy water (along with any tools and hands that touched it).
Teaching kids the importance of cooking certain foods to proper temperatures is also necessary.
6. Safe food storage
Food needs to be handled properly on the front side of cooking AND on the backside — it needs to be cooled and stored safely.
Leftovers, or food prepared ahead, should be stored in shallow containers, or as smaller portions, to help it cool quickly. Teach your kids to avoid putting hot food in the refrigerator, and avoid leaving it out on the counter too long to reach the bacterial growth danger zone of 40ºF – 140ºF.
Always store raw food, especially meats, away from cooked food. It’s best to keep raw meat on the lowest shelf in your refrigerator with a rimmed pan underneath to prevent any drippings from contaminating other food.
7. No lick zone
Double-dipping and finger-licking must be an innate child behavior — they all seem to do it!
But, we must avoid it in the kitchen in to prevent spreading germs, and acquiring any harmful pathogens from uncooked meat and eggs. This is one of the toughest kitchen safety tips for kids to enforce, because it’s hard not to lick the spoon! But for young kids, who are more susceptible to pathogens, it’s important.
8. Read through the entire recipe
A great reminder for adults, and a great lesson for kids. Sometimes you need to go slow to go fast, and following a recipe is no exception.
Have you ever jumped into a recipe only to realize that you didn’t have all the ingredients, the right tools, or an understanding of a technique used?
Teach your kids to read the full ingredient list, read all of the instructions, and even have everything measured, weighed, peeled, sliced, and ready BEFORE beginning to cook to set them up for success.
“Mise en place,” as the French say.
9. Teach kids knife safety (and other sharp objects)
Teaching kids how to safely use sharp objects can feel intimidating. I recommend starting them young with age-appropriate tools and low-risk scenarios.
Learning how to slice, chop, and dice can first be taught with a plastic knife and peeled banana or watermelon. Teach the “bear claw” method, and watch for thumbs with a mind of their own.
Progress to kids chef’s knives and adult knives slowly as they get older and gain more motor control.
In addition, teach your kids to peel away from them and to keep knuckles clear of the grater.
10. Let kids use the blender & food processor (safely!)
Using small appliances with young kids can also be nerve-racking — move slowly and remember these suggestions:
- Teach your kids how to use electrical plugs safely, and to unplug small appliances when you are done using them, to decrease the risk of accidents.
- Kids can watch you first as you model careful and deliberate handling of sharp parts, taking necessary precautions.
- As kids learn through both observation and participation, you can safely set up small appliances first, and then let them push the buttons with your direction.
- Once they demonstrate an understanding of safe steps, and are mature enough, your kids can operate the blender and food processor themselves with supervision.
11. Teach kids stove safety
Heat and fire are nothing to take lightly, but they are also elements you can teach your kids to handle. When your children are mature enough to understand the dangers of the stovetop, it’s time to make sure they know how to safely maneuver it.
Strict lessons on how to turn the burners on, adjust the heat, and shut everything off are key.
Kids need to know that the stovetop is off limits unless an adult is supervising, or has given them the green light to use it.
When using pots and pans, children need to know that all handles should point to the side or back, rather than hanging out in front of the stove. If a handle gets bumped, all of its hot contents could spill on you and lead to serious burns.
12. Should kids use the oven?
Kids can safely use the oven with your help, and with good listening skills. It can be treated as a privilege once they are ready.
Start with teaching safe ignition, safely opening and closing the door, using oven mitts, properly putting food in and taking it out, and most importantly… double checking that the stovetop and oven are off when cooking is complete.
Little ones will be too small for safely placing and removing pans, but they can stand back and observe in the meantime.
13. Wiping up surfaces and spills
Keeping surfaces relatively clean isn’t just a matter of aesthetics, it’s also a matter of safety. Spills can be slippery on the floor, or contaminate the countertop.
Teach your kids that occasional spills are a part of working in the kitchen — it’s just important to clean up the mess right away.
14. Handling a fire and basic first aid
Kitchen fires can be scary and quickly get out of control. But, we all feel better when we have a good idea of how to handle them ahead of time.
- Call for an adult if one is not in the kitchen with you.
- Use baking soda to smother small flames.
- If a fire is brewing in a pan on the stove, put a lid on it to remove the oxygen.
- If flames are large and leaping, leave the house and call 911.
15. Cleaning up
Make it known early that part of cooking is cleaning up! Kids need to be part of the clean up process so that they understand this. My boys love to cook and RUN, but cleaning up is a safety step just like all the others.
- Put ingredients away
- Add dishes to the dishwasher
- Hand wash tools and gear
- Wipe down counters
- Sweep or mop the floors
- Make sure all small appliances are unplugged
- Check that the stovetop and oven are off
Creating a master checklist is always helpful.
Get Your Kids Involved in Healthy Cooking with These Kitchen Safety Tips
Now you have plenty of kitchen safety tips to start working with your kids (of any age) on. Use this article to guide you as you sit down and create your own family rules around kitchen safety.
Let your kids be a part of the discussion and let them hold you accountable as well — it will make for a safe and enjoyable kitchen experience for years to come.
Before you know it, they’ll be making their own healthy after school snacks and packing their own lunches!