“Nonna, can I wash the dishes, please?” asked Ally, my eight-year-old granddaughter. Ally is like most children, she loves to help in the kitchen. Though she’s avidly washing dishes, I guarantee four or five years from now the sight of dirty dishes won’t be so exciting. Today she enjoys helping with the dishes because she’s learning how things work. She learns to appreciate whole foods and what makes a nutritious meal by helping out in the kitchen.
Involving children in meal preparation gives them the opportunity to have multi-sensory experiences with different foods. This is especially valuable when introducing new foods or switching the family’s diet from processed foods to whole foods. In fact, multi-sensory learning is fundamental when it comes to turning a picky eater into a healthy eater.
So how do you avoid common kitchen hazards, especially for children? As valuable as tactile experiences are for appreciating nutritious food, when children help you in the kitchen it only takes an unobserved moment for an accident to happen. Injuries and possible food poisoning are less likely if you follow the wise advice below.
1. Always wash hands with soap and water before handling food.
This applies to everyone who works in the kitchen. Germs can spread easily if hands are not cleaned properly. Wash hands with soap and water for at least twenty seconds. Rubbing hands together underwater is just as important for cleanliness as soap. Make a game out of it with kids. Sing the alphabet song while washing your hands. Make it educational by counting down the twenty seconds with your child while they wash their hands. When your child can count to twenty on their own? Count backwards from twenty to one.
2. Use a sturdy step stool so your child can easily reach the counter.
Children love to help and their involvement in the kitchen is crucial to appreciating food. Buy a sturdy step stool to avoid falls and injuries.
3. Never let children eat uncooked eggs.
Children love to lick the dough off the spoon while baking cookies. But salmonella from undercooked eggs is a real problem. Explain that it’s better to taste the cookie after baking so you don’t get sick.
4. Warn children about the danger of a hot stove and oven.
Always be vigilant when a small child is near hot surfaces. So many accidents are preventable. Burns from boiling water and hot ovens are two of them. Keep cooking appliance cords away from hazards. Always keep a fire extinguisher in your kitchen. To put out small fires, throw baking soda over the flames. If the fat in a pan starts to burn, cover the pan to cut off the oxygen flow. Turn off the heater.
5. Point pot and pan handles toward the back or toward the center of the stove.
This is such an easy habit to start. This simple step prevents feisty kids (and adults) from coming into contact with a handle sticking out of the oven and spilling its piping-hot contents. Even though my kids are grown, I still point the handles towards the back or center of the stove. Just so I don’t accidentally burn myself!
6. Keep kitchen countertops clean.
Often the “flu” your family is going through is actually food poisoning. You can negate this by washing kitchen surfaces thoroughly. Use surface cleaners with bleach to disinfect countertops and other work areas. Or put half a teaspoon of bleach in a spray bottle filled with water and spray on countertops to disinfect. Keep purses and other items away from prepared surfaces as they transmit bacteria. Make sure you also disinfect the kitchen faucet handles when cleaning the sink.
7. Avoid cross-contamination of food.
Never put cooked meat on a plate that previously had raw meat on it. Wash knives and cutting boards between uses for meat, dairy, and other produce.
8. Wash dish towels and replace sponges often.
Buy seven tea towels. So you have a clean towel for every day of the week. A sponge is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Squeeze out after use and allow to air dry. Replace the sponges once a week. During the weekday, you sanitize your sponge by rinsing it, squeezing it out, and then soaking it in the microwave for two minutes.
9. Always wash fruits and vegetables.
Wash vegetables and fruits before putting them in the fridge. In this way, they were pre-cleaned, making meal preparation easier. The kids can grab a healthy snack without worrying about harmful bacteria lurking on the surface. Also, bacteria on food will multiply quickly if left at a temperature 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 building up in the food.
10. Be careful with knives.
Obviously, sharp objects are a hazard to young children. Keep all knives out of the reach of children. Toddlers and preschoolers love to spread softened butter, cream cheese, and nut butters. Small hands can easily use plastic dishes such as those bought for picnics and barbecues.