Building confidence in your junior chef: Kitchen knife skills

Kids may want to help you in the kitchen preparing food. Here are some rules that can help even the smallest and youngest of children with some skills that will reach long into the future.

It is time for family gatherings and good food to nourish our bodies and souls. As the kids come home from school and are on holiday break they may want to help you in the kitchen preparing food. Here are some rules that can help even the smallest and youngest of children with some skills that will extend long into the future.

Michigan State University Extension and Fight BAC recommend starting your food preparation with hand washing. To ensure safe food that is free from pathogens that can make people sick , have children wash their hands with warm, soapy water for 20 seconds, then dry with a clean paper towel. If anyone is ill or not feeling well, it is best for him or her to wait until they are feeling better to work with food.

A common concern among caregivers – teaching youth safe knife skills. To start – relax; approach one- step at a time, considering age appropriateness and ability. Children eat more fruits and vegetables and eating foods that are more nutritious is an opportunity and benefit for youth to learn skills to prepare and cook these foods.

First, clear your workspace of any clutter, remember to clean and sanitize the work surface. Now make sure everyone has had a snack. You will want to pick a cooking project within everyone’s comfort zone. Children should have the opportunity to use a blender for pesto or smoothies, a food chopper – which protects fingers because the blades are not exposed, a vegetable peeler to make ribbons of vegetables for salads or stir-fry and lastly an egg slicer for sliced eggs, olives, bananas and strawberries, etc.

Mastering knife skills is the next step, but only with adult supervision and permission. Here are seven tips (and linked pictures) for helping junior chefs master the art of knife skills from “Eat Your Beets.

  1. Stand at the right height: You need to see what you are doing.
  2. Hold your knife: Everyone may not hold the knife the same way – as long as it is safe it isn’t a problem.
  3. Rock the knife: Maneuvering the knife on the board needs practice. Rock it with no food, and then try softer foods like a banana, cheese stick or tomato.
  4. Move your fingers: Grip the knife in one hand and curl fingers around the smaller foods. For longer or bigger pieces of food, hold the food and move hand away from the cutting action, holding the food securely.
  5. Chop and draw: Have the youth place the palm of their free hand flat on the top of the blade. They can then push the knife away from them while moving the knife in a 45 degree direction and then back again. For the draw, place the tip of the blade on the cutting board and draw the tip back towards them.
  6. Slow and sharp: Encourage your kids to practice cutting as slowly as possible, with no distractions. Focus is key.
  7. Nervous Nancy: You and the kids are not ready if there are nerves. A great idea from “Eat Your Beets” to get things going; use a lettuce knife and play dough to practice and to build confidence and is age appropriate for even the youngest learner.

Whether your junior chef is ready to chop, slice and dice or to make ribbons of vegetables with a peeler, confidence will build for you and your child, and you both will have a great time preparing those wonderful meals and snacks together. Bon’ appetit!

Did you find this article useful?