A two year old wielding a knife isn’t exactly a comforting image for most parents. And since my kid could find a way to injure himself on a marshmallow, naturally, I was a bit apprehensive when we started cooking together. Boiling water, micrograters, garbage disposals; the possibilities for disaster seemed infinite. But , at the end of the day, we all wanted to eat dinner and there was no way I could finish a meal with a sobbing desperate baby who just wanted to be involved. So into the kitchen we went.
We started working together in the kitchen when he was around 12 months and most of what he did was really quite removed from the real action. He would sit on the floor and play with extra dough or “mix” some veggies in a bowl. As he got older though, these types of simple activities no longer cut it. They would passify him for about 20 seconds before he would ask to be “up”. If anyone has tried to chop an onion with a toddler on your hip, you know it’s impossible. So I let him, with much supervision and direction, take on more complex tasks. Tasks that actually aided in the progression of dinner.
Here is how we got started cooking in the kitchen safely:
#1) We bought a small working table for him. I had him on a stool for a bit so he could reach the counter, but at 16 months, he wasn’t steady enough. Managing a boiling pot of water, chopping with a sharp knife, and making sure your baby doesn’t hurl off the edge of a tall stool and break his face was really too much.
#2) Around 18 months of age I bought a child sized knife so he could start chopping, an activity that can captify him for hours to this day. Before letting him use the knife I tried to impale, slice and otherwise injure myself in earnest. The knife we purchased was really quite dull (as would be expected with a child’s knife!). Despite it being so dull, it took dozens upon dozens of times for Fig to use the knife properly. I had to watch him closely the whole time and correct him on the technique. This was probably the most frustrating aspect of teaching Fig to cook. To this day, he still has to be monitored closely because you never know when he’s going to bust out of the kitchen in a full sprint, knife in hand.
#3) We set some early ground rules.
- When I’m working at the stove I won’t pick him up ( which, to this day, results in a sob fest)
- He must stand back a good 5 feet when I open the oven door.
- When I say “careful, hot!”, as in transferring a boiling bowl of pasta into a colander, he must stand back 5 feet.
- When I’m working with sharp objects, he can’t be in my arms or near me ( Again, sob fest)
#4) I try to do all the “dangerous” aspects before working with him OR get his cooking table set up and engage him in a task while I do my part.
In the year we’ve been in the kitchen together the only accidents we’ve had involved the food ( rock hard, burnt to a crisp muffins anyone?) Partly because I’m hypervigilant and paranoid but also because I invested a lot of time into making sure he uses tools correctly and engages in safe behavior.
While I started involving Fig in the kitchen out of sheer necessity, it’s grown into something enjoyable for both of us. I hope that it stays that way for years to come.