“Nana, can I do the dishes?” my eight-year-old granddaughter Ellie pleaded. Ellie is like most kids, she likes to help out in the kitchen. As much as she wants to do the dishes, I guarantee that in four or five years, the sight of dirty dishes won’t be so irritating. Helping with the dishes is fun these days because she’s learning how things work. By helping out in the kitchen, she is learning to appreciate whole foods and ways to prepare nutritious meals.
Involving children in meal preparation gives them the opportunity to have a multisensory experience with a variety of foods. This is especially valuable when introducing new foods or changing a family’s diet from processed to whole foods. In fact, multisensory learning is fundamental to transforming picky eaters into healthy eaters.
So how do you avoid common kitchen hazards, especially for children? Just as valuable as the tactile experience is the appreciation of delicious food, and when kids are helping you in the kitchen, it only takes one careless moment for an accident to happen. If you follow the sage advice below, your chances of injury and potential food poisoning will decrease.
1. Always wash your hands with soap and water before handling food.
This applies to everyone who works in the kitchen. Germs can easily spread if hands are not cleaned properly. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least twenty seconds. Rubbing your hands under water is just as important as washing your hands with soap. Make a game with the kids. Sing the alphabet song while washing your hands. Make it educational by counting twenty seconds while washing your hands with your child. When your child can count to twenty on their own; count backwards from twenty to one.
2. Use a sturdy step stool to allow your child to comfortably reach the counter.
Children love to help, and their involvement in the kitchen is essential to an appreciation of food. Invest in a sturdy step stool to prevent falls and injuries.
3. Do not let children eat raw eggs.
Kids love to lick the batter off their spoons while making cookies. But salmonella in raw eggs is a real concern. Explain that it is best to taste the cookies after they are baked so that you don’t get sick.
4. Remind children of the dangers of hot stoves and ovens.
Always be alert when small children are near hot surfaces. Many accidents are preventable. Hot water burns and high temperature oven burns are two of them. Keep cooking appliance cords out of harm’s way. Always keep a fire extinguisher in your kitchen. To extinguish a small fire, sprinkle baking soda over the flame. If the fat in the pan starts to burn, cover the pan to cut off the oxygen supply. Turn off the heat.
5. Point pots and pans to the rear or center of the stove.
This is an easy habit to start. This simple step is an effective way to prevent children (and adults) from reaching the handle protruding from the stove and spilling scalding contents. Even though my kids are grown, I’ll still point my finger at the back or center of the stove. lest I accidentally burn myself!
6. Keep kitchen countertops clean.
Many times, your family’s “flu” is actually food poisoning. You can eliminate this by thoroughly cleaning your kitchen surfaces. Disinfect countertops and other work areas with a surface cleaner that contains bleach. Or add half a teaspoon of bleach to a spray bottle filled with water and spray on countertops to sanitize. Keep purses and other items away from prep surfaces, as they can harbor germs. Make sure to sanitize kitchen faucet handles when scrubbing the sink as well.
7. Avoid food cross-contamination.
Never put cooked meat on a plate that once served raw meat. Clean knives and cutting boards when handling meat, dairy and produce.
8. Wash dish towels and replace sponges frequently.
Buy seven dish towels. That way you’ll have a clean towel every day of the week. Sponges are the perfect baking ground for bacteria. Squeeze and air dry after use. Change the sponge once a week. During the week, sanitize the sponge by rinsing it, squeezing it dry, and warming it in the microwave for two minutes.
9. Wash fruits and vegetables frequently.
Wash vegetables and fruits before putting them in the refrigerator. That way, they’re already pre-cleaned, making meal prep easier. Kids can enjoy a healthy snack without worrying about bad bacteria lurking on the surface. Also, bacteria on food can multiply rapidly at temperatures between 45 F and 140 F. Avoid this danger zone as much as possible by quickly chilling cooked food. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers immediately after dinner to prevent bacteria from forming in your food.
10. Handle knives with care.
Obviously, sharp objects are a danger to small children. Keep all knives out of the reach of children. Toddlers and preschoolers love spreads with softened butter, cream cheese, and nut butters. Plastic utensils are safe for little hands, buy the kind you use for picnics and barbecues.