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ATK Kids

Safety Tips for Kids in the Kitchen

Safety in the kitchen is about teaching kids to reduce danger—not avoid it.
By Published Mar. 15, 2019
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We’ve been inviting kids ages 8 to 13 into our test kitchen for more than a year now to help us test recipes for our kids cookbook and website. It’s been fascinating to watch them interact with written recipes and try their hands at new cooking techniques. (Sending a huge thank you to all the parents who lent us their young chefs!)

Of course, there have been many surprises along the way, including the fact that many of these children had never cracked an egg before entering our test kitchen and most had never touched raw meat. Why? In many cases, it was because those activities come with a certain amount of risk or danger.

At America’s Test Kitchen Kids, we believe safety in the kitchen is about teaching kids to reduce risk—not avoid it. How are kids going to learn to make meatballs, for example, if they don’t get to crack eggs and handle ground meat? (We also believe that everyone should make meatballs!)

With that in mind, here are some ideas and tools that can help you teach kids good safety habits in the kitchen.

Washing Hands

Everyone Wash (and Dry) Your Hands

What’s the number one rule for kitchen safety? Wash your hands before you cook—and while you cook. Before getting started, and after touching any raw meat, poultry, fish or eggs, kids (and adults!) should wash their hands with hot soapy water for 20 seconds. How long is that? About the time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song . . . twice. A good paper towel holder, like our top-rated Simplehuman Tension Arm Paper Towel Holder, is the most hygienic way to dry hands since you can tear off sheets with one hand.

Temping Custard

Teach Kids About Temperature

The second principle of kitchen safety is don’t guess when food is done. We use an instant-read thermometer to tell when proteins—meat, fish, chicken—are cooked through. The Thermoworks Thermapen MK4 is our top-rated option, but the nearly $100 price tag is a bit steep for kids. The same company makes our favorite inexpensive option, the Thermoworks ThermoPop, which costs about $30 and comes in an array of bright colors kids will like.

Kid using opinel knife

Kids Need Their Own Knives

If your children want to cook, you need to teach them knife skills—how to hold the knife, how to position the hand holding the food, and how to make some basic cuts (like the difference between slicing and chopping). The 8-inch chef’s knife you probably use is too big for most kids. In our testing, tweens preferred the Victorinox Swiss Army Fibrox Pro 6” Chef’s Knife. This is a smaller version of our favorite chef’s knife for adults. For younger children (ages 7 to 9) or kids with smaller hands, we recommend the Opinel Le Petit Chef Cutlery Set, which has a rounded tip and finger guard for additional protection.

Using Tongs

Let Tongs Do the Work

People often ask me what’s the most essential tool in my kitchen. My answer: Tongs. They keep my hands at a safe distance while performing hundreds of kitchen tasks. Our favorite 12-inch tongs are too big for little hands, but there’s a smaller size perfect for young chefs. Pick up both the OXO Good Grips 9” Tongs with stainless steel tips (and the version with silicone tips if you have nonstick pans). As children become comfortable in the kitchen, they can turn cutlets as they cook or transfer roasted broccoli from a sheet pan to a platter.

Kid oven mitts

How to Handle Hot Stuff

One final safety item: oven mitts. Younger kids are best taught to leave the oven to adults. But as kids mature they will be ready to take a pan of brownies out of a hot oven. But the oven mitts you already own are likely too big for your kids and therefore dangerous. The Curious Chef Child Chef Mitt Set is designed to fit small hands and provides enough protection for kids to handle moderately hot cookware. Do teach your kids that even the best oven mitts don’t work forever (so work quickly) and oven mitts don’t work when wet (water conducts heat) so keep those mitts dry.

Looking for more information on cooking with kids? Check out these articles: