Kids in the Kitchen: Cooking and Kitchen Safety Guide for Parents

Updated on: February 27, 2023

A couple of young children making cookies, working with a bowl at a kitchen counter while supervised by an adult.A couple of young children making cookies, working with a bowl at a kitchen counter while supervised by an adult.

Cooking and Kitchen Safety Guide for Parents

Teaching your children to cook not only exposes them to a fun hobby they can enjoy but exposes them to a skill they’ll utilize for the rest of their lives. For that reason, the younger a child can begin learning cooking skills, the better they can become. 

However, the kitchen, and cooking in general, involves some potentially dangerous implements and tools. From sharp objects to hot surfaces, many objects in the kitchen could lead to accidents if used improperly. Because of these risks, many parents choose not to include children in their cooking or teach them any cooking until they’re in their teens. However, children can still learn the basics of cooking and other age-appropriate tasks as long as parents supervise and other safety considerations are implemented. 

Developmental Benefits of Teaching Kids to Cook

While cooking is itself a valuable skill to have, learning to cook can teach kids a variety of related and tangential skills. Activities like chopping vegetables, mixing and pouring ingredients, and kneading dough help to fine-tune motor skills. Following recipes helps to develop language skills, as kids learn they must read carefully and follow the directions.

Measuring out quantities of ingredients can help to teach math skills and how to make accurate measurements. Furthermore, aspects of cooking like the mixture of ingredients or boiling of water can introduce scientific concepts like chemical reactions and different states of matter.

Learning to cook can help to boost confidence. Kids may feel proud when they help to make a delicious dish, just like they’ve seen adults do. Learning what goes into a meal can demonstrate the proper use of all sorts of ingredients, helping to promote an understanding of nutrition, portion control, and other healthy food habits.

Teaching Kids How To Safely Use the Kitchen

Teaching kids to use the kitchen responsibly is a large task, and it is full of smaller lessons. Of course, no one can learn to be a master chef at first, but with time and patience, kids can begin to learn important kitchen skills a step at a time.

Every kid is different, so it’s ultimately up to guardians to evaluate their readiness to perform various kitchen tasks. However, the following general guidelines can give an idea of the types of tasks that may be within a particular child’s grasp.

Kitchen Activities for Two to Five-year-Olds

Though too young to perform any real kitchen tasks unsupervised, there are still plenty of ways that kids from two to five years old can help in the kitchen. They may not be making any three-course meals for dinner, but they can still find ways to feel proud helping in the kitchen.

  • Helping to Collect Ingredients: Of course, kids on the younger end will need more help identifying ingredients, but it can still help them to tell ingredients apart and learn where things belong.
  • Stirring and Mixing Ingredients: These activities may be a bit messy, but they can be safe and fun for small children.
  •  Pouring Liquids: Whether pouring into or from measuring cups, asking kids to help pour liquids is a good way to build coordination and confidence.
  • Rinsing and Cleaning Produce: Cleaning produce before use is a good way to reinforce the importance of food safety.
  • Using a Cookie Cutter: Though sharp enough to cut dough, a typical cookie cutter is safe for small children to use and helps inspire creativity.
  • Rolling Dough: Another important step in baking projects like making cookies or pies is rolling dough. The relatively imprecise nature of the task makes it a natural fit for young kids too.
  • Mashing Foods: Kids can have fun and learn motor skills while mashing foods like potatoes in a bowl.
  • Peeling Eggs: Soft-boiled eggs offer a low-risk way to get used to the physical properties of eggshells without worrying about handling raw eggs.
  • Spreading Frosting: Using a spatula or butter knife to spread frosting also offers a good way for kids to gain coordination.

Kids of this age should also learn the importance of safe food handling. This includes washing hands while cooking, as well as how to avoid cross-contamination.

Kitchen Activities for Six to Eight-year-Olds

By age six, kids have better coordination and begin to be mature enough to take on more advanced kitchen tasks. With adult supervision, kids in this age range can start to learn how to safely hold and use sharp objects like knives.

  • Peeling Veggies and Fruits: This is an activity that helps kids to get used to knives while honing an important kitchen skill.
  • Measuring Ingredients: Using measuring cups and carefully measuring out quantities takes precision, care, math, and reading skills. As such it’s an important aspect of cooking for six to eight-year-olds to learn.
  • Cracking Eggs: Cracking eggs can be a little intimidating at first since it can be tough to anticipate the right amount of force needed to crack the egg. Too much force can make a mess, and too little can result in eggshell fragments getting into the food. Kids need to get practice in a low-pressure recipe, such as scrambled eggs or cake, rather than fried eggs.
  • Reading Labels: Be sure to teach children the information they can find and should look for on labels, including proper storage, cooking directions, and proper quantities to use.
  • Cutting Soft Foods with a Paring Knife: Beginning by cutting soft foods with a paring knife is a good way to build a foundation of food-chopping skills that can be transferred to other chopping tasks.
  • Portioning and Storing Food: Kids should learn how to appropriately portion and store food, including leftovers and extra ingredients that can be used later.

At this age, kids can also learn what various appliances do in the kitchen, as well as how to safely use them. They should learn about appropriate kitchen attire, such as avoiding baggy or loose sleeves that could catch on fire from hot surfaces. 

Kitchen Activities for Eight to Ten-year-Olds

Kids of this age group should be prepared to assist with some more technical aspects of cooking. This includes learning how to clean and disinfect tools and utensils, as well as learning how to use appliances to mix ingredients or open cans.

  • Using Small Appliances: Smaller self-contained kitchen appliances like food processors, blenders, and hand mixers are a great way for kids to learn different ways to prepare ingredients.
  • Opening cans: Since can openers and opened cans can have sharp surfaces, they should be reserved for older kids to use. Some can openers can also be challenging to use, which can be frustrating for younger kids to grasp.
  • Cutting Harder Veggies: Cutting hard vegetables like carrots takes some skill to perform safely, which is why it is important to practice softer foods first.

Teach children the importance of cleaning as they go to help avoid cross-contamination, and to make after-dinner cleanup that much faster.

Safe Kitchen Activities for Eleven-year-Olds and Up

Kids eleven years old and up can learn principles that begin to complete their mastery of the kitchen while taking safety into their own hands. While teaching them to cook, explain the concepts of fire safety, as well as how to tell when food such as meat has been cooked thoroughly. They should also learn some simple first-aid treatments for minor cuts and first-degree burns. From a practical standpoint, you can also encourage your kids to take the initiative with the following tasks:

  • Using the Oven, Stove, and Slow Cookers: Teach kids how to cook simple foods, explaining how to know the best way to cook them, and how to properly use each device.
  • Baking Simple Recipes: Kids can grasp the ideas necessary to bake simple recipes such as pizza, cookies, or cake.

Be sure to explain some safety skills regarding the microwave, such as which items shouldn’t be placed within, and how quickly objects can become too hot to handle. 

Keeping Your Kitchen Safe for Young Cooks

Although it’s important to consider the age of your young cook when prioritizing their safety, you should also keep your kitchen safe overall. The kitchen poses several dangers, particularly to young and inexperienced cooks. Reducing these dangers takes a combination of vigilance, maintenance, and careful consideration of the risks.

Check for Expired Items Every Month

Set aside time each month to go through all the food items in your kitchen and check expiration dates. Check for items in the refrigerator, and even the pantry to monitor for approaching and passing dates. If possible, have kids help in the process. This is a good way to teach children the purpose of best buy dates, and the importance of monitoring items to keep track of when they will go bad.

This can give a good idea for rotating out less-frequently used canned goods. It also helps to identify which groceries tend to go unused, which can help decide what to prioritize when making a grocery list.

Regularly Clean and Disinfect

Make a habit of regularly cleaning and disinfecting the kitchen. Teach kids the importance of promptly disposing of food scraps and trash, and how to properly disinfect surfaces.

Keep in mind that different cleaning methods should be used for different items and areas of the kitchen. For example, cleaning a cabinet involves different considerations than cleaning a sink. Be sure to use appropriate cleaners, as some chemicals may be appropriate for some surfaces, but cause damage to others. 

Keep Sharp Objects Out of Reach

Knives, skewers, and other sharp kitchen implements should be locked away or kept safely out of reach of children. This helps ensure they can only use these tools with adult supervision. 

Keeping knives sharp can also be another way to avoid injury. Though it may seem that a sharper knife poses more of a threat, a dull knife requires more force to cut, which opens up opportunities for accidents.

Cabinet Safety

Make cabinets inaccessible to kids by making use of child-safe locks. This can keep dangerous kitchen tools and toxic cleaning compounds out of kids’ reach. It can also help prevent kids from pulling open and climbing up drawers. It’s not a bad idea to equip all of your kitchen cabinets with child-safe locks, but efforts should at least be taken to use them on cabinets that contain items that could cause harm to a child.

Cleaning Supplies

Proper storage should be used with cleaning supplies, including storing in cabinets with child-safe locks. However, these supplies must be put away directly after use, so they are inaccessible to kids. Using a dedicated storage location such as a lazy susan can help make it convenient to take out and put away cleaners.

Cleaning supplies should also be clearly labeled with easily identified labels for poisonous chemicals. Take time to explain these labels to your children so they understand not to misuse them.

Safe and Future-Proof Remodeling

If you’re going to go through the effort of remodeling to childproof your kitchen, there are some things to consider before remodeling. Consider kitchen design choices that will continue to be practical in the future. Child-proofing should not come at the expense of future usability since children will grow up, gain more coordination, and learn more about the consequences of their actions. To balance safety and future practicality, use things like child safety locks that can be removed when no longer needed.

Additionally, try to avoid storing heavy pots and pans in high areas that will be difficult to reach as you age. Designing your kitchen around these considerations can help to save effort and strain in the long term.

Don’t forget to think about your trash can placement. Options like pull out trash cans help keep potentially unsafe garbage, like raw meat packaging or sharp objects out of young children’s sight.

Placement of Accessories

For appliances that are too big or heavy to regularly stow away, make sure they are in an easy-to-reach location, but safely away from edges where they could be knocked or pulled down. Consider including clever cabinet features like an appliance garage or mixer lift in your kitchen design for the ultimate in storage, safety, and style. Pots and pans should be placed in a convenient pull-out cookware organizer for easy access. When in use, turn the pot and pan handles inward so curious children can’t easily reach up and pull them down.

Appliances like microwaves can be arranged in unique ways as needed as well. For example, rather than using an over-the-range microwave, a microwave can be incorporated into a cabinet setup for a unique effect with storage above and below.

Kid-friendly Recipes from Around the Web

The following pages offer some safe and beginner-friendly recipes for kids to help out with, or even make all on their own:

  • Momables: This page features a list of recipes sorted by age, and each recipe mentions the aspects of it that kids might need help with.
  • Food Network: On this page, parents can find resources ranging from recipes to kitchen tips for kids.
  • Weelicious: Browse a set of recipes that kids can help to cook. Each recipe includes detailed instructions, pictures, and a list of ingredients.
  • Yummly: This page describes several recipes that kids can make on their own. Recipes are sorted by appropriate cooking appliances, such as microwaves or air fryers.