Kids and Kitchen Knife Skills
Kids and Kitchen Knife Skills – I have found several blog posts and videos instructing on how to teach children to use knives properly, and most of them have good information and useful tips.
With that said, there is no one specific way to teach a kid how to use a knife. It depends upon your child’s ability, the parent’s cutting technique and knowledge, and the tools you have on hand.
For instance J.M. Hirsch, the Associated Press food editor, gave his two-year-old a knife and started him cutting with only one hand. Other chef parents, however, recommend using both hands with the proper ‘claw’ hold (seen above). Neither is wrong or right; it just depends upon the kid and the parent. This is a cooking relationship, not prep work at a restaurant.
With that said, I think there are some general themes that are worth emphasizing. Firstly, kids should start slowly. It is not a race and they have years to learn. Teach well, take your time, and give positive feedback. Secondly, your attitude as the parent chef matters. Keep it fun, embrace imperfection, and don’t stress out. Kid’s pick up on parental anxiety and stress, which can then dampen a child’s enthusiasm and confidence in the kitchen.
But probably the most important concept is to know your child’s abilities and supervise during cooking. You may even want to come up with a few good rules to encourage learning and safety. As your child grows the rules can change, but having some standards keeps both you and your child focused on fun ‘bloodless’ cooking.
Kids and Kitchen Knife Skills – list of tips
From my experience and others great resources on the internet, I have compiled the following list of tips that you may want to consider when teaching your child to use a knife.
(1) Provide a proper work space. Make sure to have a large enough cutting board that doesn’t slip. Also, ensure that your child is cutting at a comfortable height, and buy a good stool if necessary.
(2) Choose the right foods to work on. Squash and hard root vegetables may be too difficult to cut or may need some prep by the parent chef. Give manageable tasks to get them involved.
(3) Stop food from rolling. Flatten out round vegetables so they don’t roll around. It is always good technique to flatten one round side, and it is much safer too. Keep it easy and safe for the little chefs.
(4) Choose the proper cutting tool for your kid. You may want to start with vegetable peelers, choppers, or a mezzaluna, and then graduate to serrated kids’ knives before moving on to real cutlery. Regardless, the parent should control the introduction of knives and when they are used during cooking.
(5) Buy an appropriately sized versatile knife for your child. A kid will feel more ownership and become familiar with his or her own knife. I recommend a small chefs knife as it can perform most crucial cutting tasks (see next point).
(6) Don’t overwhelm kids with too many knives at first. Keep it simple. Santokus and chefs knives cut differently and confusion isn’t good. Also, don’t switch between serrated and plain knives too much because they require different cutting strokes. Muscle memory is valuable at a young age, and you can always introduce different knives as skills improve.
(7) Teach good technique when appropriate. The pinch and claw method of cutting will be a valuable skill for years to come and will make cutting safer. With that said, don’t focus too rigidly on teaching technique. Bonding and family time in the kitchen trump culinary skills (in my opinion).
(8) Use sharp knives. Avoid starting kids on butter knives or plastic disposable knives. They can be frustrating to cut with and often teach bad technique. Good knives, on the other hand, inspire cooking because they help kids do more. Leave butter knives for butter and spreading things.
(9) Don’t forget the basics. Teach your kid about cutting board sanitation and knife honing to maintain blade sharpness. I bet your child will think honing knives is fun.
(10) Remember basic knife safety. Don’t try to catch a falling knife, cut away from yourself, don’t run with knives, keep the tip pointed down and away from people, keep hands off of cutting boards, and don’t submerge knives in soapy dishwater.
There might be a lot to think about when introducing knives to children, but the benefits of teaching a kid to use a knife are many. Not only is it a lifelong skill that will continue to be used and improved, knife wielding kids are usually better eaters. And of course cooking is a great bonding time too.
If you want to pursue this subject more, here are several resources that I found useful.
Simple Bites has a helpful post on knife skills for toddlers that provides very solid guidance.
What’s Cooking with Kids has another useful post about knife skills and provides other great tips.
Kids and Kitchen Knife Skills – the best knives
For video instruction, Food Diva has a piece called The Cutting Edge of Child’s Play that can be watched for about $2 via her website. Chef Maribel cuts up veggies, fruit, cheese and ham with a couple of kids and does a fine job. She covers the basics and the video is well made. My main complaint is that she seems to be promoting Wusthof cutlery and uses too many knives in her instruction. Admirably though, she gets the young girl at the end to segment an orange and peel an apple with a bird’s beak knife.
On YouTube there are additional videos, and some of the best are by Chef Desireé of Cooking for Kids. Her video segments deal with knife skills among other subjects, and the online content is free. She does a good job describing different knife cuts, technique, and types of knives. I also like how she introduces some cooking logic into the mix. There’s actually a reason to cut veggies in a similar size and to use a specific knife cut. She also takes on dicing onions, which most adults don’t even do properly. I would recommend this book.
Lastly, J.M Hirsch has a short video about kids and knives called Little Kids, Big Knives. The video doesn’t instruct so much as it gives Hirsch’s philosophy on involving children in cooking and his rules for handling knives, but if you are starting a child really young with a knife, I would probably take his advice. Though I must admit that I cringe a bit when I see the rolling cucumber being cut by his little boy.
Regardless, all of these sources provide valuable help and will likely ensure that your kid’s experience with that first knife is a lot safer. And let’s face it, kids these days are chiffonading at a much younger age. My next child will be cutting a lot earlier, and I am going to be prepared.