One of the risks that concerns many parents about getting their younger kids cooking is around using knives, but learn to respect knives and you’ll unlock a confidence around cooking
In some cultures around the world learning how to use sharp knives is taught to kids right from the get go, and as they grow up they are used to handling and safely using a blade as an extension of their hands. In many tribal cultures knives are a matter of survival from food prep to firewood, so it’s no surprise that children are expected to learn how to use them so as to ensure their own survival and help their parents.
However in the ‘safe’ Western world we don’t need knives in the same way for our everyday survival, beyond cooking (and outdoor/camping/woodland fun!), and as a result we’re simply less experienced. With this comes anxiety around our kids harming themselves and so often they are prevented from handling knives of any kind until an indeterminate but usually much older age. Unless knife handling is taught to our children then they often grow up without really understanding how to use a knife properly – something many adults admit to (witness how many avocado injuries occur every year!)…
In response to this, there have been a number of ‘kiddie’ knives developed which on the whole have less than sharp blades. Some are much better than others… We’ve used some of these over the years at workshops and while they can be a good starting point for younger chefs, these knives can be more dangerous than sharp knives when using them with anything harder than lettuce or soft fruit/peppers etc – kids are easily frustrated by trying to slice a carrot with a blunt blade, slip and end up cutting themselves more than the kids using sharp knives! The trick with these kid knives is to find where you’re comfortable starting – like plastic serrated lettuce knives for instance – and use them for what they are intended for while you help prep the harder stuff. Pick up some confidence and your young chef will be ready to move onto normal knives before you know it.
At Foodini, we advocate introducing kids to using knives from as young as 4, if not before (if you feel up for it!). It’s another case of parents learning to step back, but like anything it’s about learning how to use them safely. That respect for the knife empowers us to develop the skills needed to cook properly..
Here are a few knife tips for learning with kids:
- This picture above shows one of the holds we use with our kid chefs: the bridge grip. Using the opposite hand to the knife hand, you hold the object being cut with a bridge cupped hand pushing down onto the food item, then slide the knife in between your fingers and pull it down. Great for halving things. We have in fact used a rounded butter knife here (this young chef was 3 at the time) as it’s a soft enough thing to cut.
- Look at where fingers are positioned before cutting happens – encourage fingers to be pressing down on the object about to be cut from above and not on the side, so that the fingernail is more likely to be cut than the soft side of the finger.
- Serrated knives are useful for soft items such as tomatoes and bread, while they aren’t much good for sinewy textures (meat/fish) or harder veg (many roots/squashes etc).
- Start small and build up – there are many ranges of mini but sharp knives out there perfect for smaller hands..
- Likewise start where you’re comfortable – pick a plastic lettuce knife if that’s what you feel will be the safest for them and in time introduce sharp knives!
- Encourage calm and quiet while chopping – the more you panic or fret around them the more likely the child will get distracted and cut themselves!
Of course a cut may (and in fact is likely to) happen, in which case it’s a part of the process – plasters go on and lessons are learnt! Confidence only comes with experience…