Teaching Children Cooking Skills
How to teach a child knife skills
Teaching a child knife skills can sound a little daunting, but it’s actually a key part of safety training in the kitchen. With a little preparation, the child’s focus will pleasantly surprise you. You can tell a child is ready to learn knife skills if:
- They can stand solidly on a stool in front of a counter, and can see what they’re working on.
- They can focus on a task (and keep looking at it) with a little prompting from you.
How to get started:
- For small children who have never handled a knife before, start by giving them playdoh and a lettuce knife or plastic knife to practice with.
- Let them use a butter knife to put a spread on toast to get a sense of how it feels to hold a knife by the handle.
- You can also give them a banana and a cutting board, and show them how to peel—and then slice—the banana with a plastic knife for a snack.
When you’re ready to teach them to chop:
- Start by picking a quieter time when you can focus on the cutting board. Having a snack together first is a great idea to take the edge off any jangly nerves!
- Make sure the child is standing high enough to see the cutting board—you’ll likely need a sturdy stool. Talk the child through these basic rules: only cut on the cutting board; only cut when no one else’s hands are on the cutting board; always look where your fingers are before you cut; and never use a knife without adult supervision.
- Pick a cut to practice that works for the child and the food they’re chopping: that might be “the claw” (ensure the hand holding the produce has all fingers curled under like a claw) or “the chop” (the hand not holding the knife has five fingers laid flat on the top of the knife to help steady it)- a great beginner’s cut!
- Prep the food they’re cutting by making it as flat and easy to cut for them as possible. If they’re cutting a cucumber or zucchini, you may find it helpful to pre-cut it lengthwise into quarters to make it easier for little hands to handle—with rounder items (like an apple), be sure to slice off the ends to make it more stable. Start with bigger, softer items: think peeled banana, cucumber, ripe pear or zucchini. Strawberries, plums, peaches and apples (slice the round ends off so they’re more stable) are next level up cutting.
As a bonus: If little ones have their own (clean) scissors, they also can be a big help cutting herbs into salads or sauces, or cutting the stems off green beans. This is a good way to get kids started cutting, without worrying about their fingers getting in the way.