By Mindy Myers, Director, Cooking Round the World
Probably the most frequent question I get asked by parents is about knives. “Will the children be using a knife in Cooking Round the World cooking camp?” My answer is yes, they will use knives, but the knives are age appropriate.
Our youngest culinary students (7 and under) use a plastic, barely serrated picnic knife. As these children are just mastering fine motor skills and their dexterity is just developing, we find working with a “beginner knife” paves the way to developing knife skills.
It may be the under 7 set can’t cut more difficult foods with a plastic knife. Instead of doing the job for them, we cut pieces into smaller, more manageable chunks so a plastic knife can be used. For examples, we might cut a potato into 10ths and thereafter, a plastic knife can do the cutting.
Children who are between 7 – 9, have graduated to using small knives with 1.5″ blades. These are metal knives with plastic handles, and while they are small, they actually can cut quite well; not a butternut squash, but certainly a potato.
Using these small metal knives gives a child a sense of knife usage and responsibility. Never allow a child this age to clean these metal knives as accidents can occur.
We allow children who are older than 9 to use a larger knife. By this age they are aware of knife risks and are savvier with use.
Before using a knife we review knife rules with the children:
- If carrying a knife, walking from the table to the sink, the knife should be pointing down and next to your leg.
- Never use a knife to point.
- Knives must be used on cutting boards only. Never cut things in your hand.
- Knives need to be sharpened. Ironically dull knives can be just as dangerous as sharp knives because it requires more effort to use.
- If someone elsewhere in the room says something funny, it’s ok to look up and join in the conversation, but do not continue cutting. Eyes should be on the knife at all times when using the knife.
- Do not reuse a knife for raw meat then vegetables, without washing the knife first.
It’s important to demonstrate the right and wrong way to use a knife. Teach children to always hold the food they are cutting with one hand, while the other hand uses the knife. The holding hand should always be shaped like a claw, with the fingers tucked under in a “C” shape. The tip of the knife should remain on the cutting board, and the cutting can be done by carefully lifting and lowering the handle.
If what a child is cutting is wobbly or rounded foods, slice the food in half (or cut off a thin piece) so that you can put the food on their flattened side. This helps the food not roll off the cutting board.
Bottom line: accidents do happen. If a child cuts themselves, we suggest not to panic. If you remain calm, so will the child. A band aid and a hug usually does the trick but if a cut is a little deeper, run the cut under cold water, wrap paper towel around the cut and hold the finger above the head, squeezing, for a few minutes until the bleeding stops.
Using a knife is necessary when cooking. Using a knife properly, accident free, can pave the way for a child to love being in the kitchen.