“Nonna, can I wash the dishes?” begged Ally, my eight-year-old granddaughter. Ally is like most children, she loves to help out in the kitchen. Although you are eager to do the dishes, I guarantee that in four to five years seeing dirty dishes will not be so exciting. Today helping with the dishes is fun as you are learning how things work. She is learning to appreciate whole foods and what makes a meal nutritious by helping out in the kitchen.
Involving children in meal preparation gives them the opportunity to have multisensory experiences with various foods. This is especially valuable when introducing new foods or when changing the family diet from processed foods to whole foods. In fact, multisensory learning is critical to transforming a picky eater into a healthy eater.
So how do you avoid common kitchen hazards, especially for kids? As valuable as tactile experiences are in appreciating nutritious food, when children help you in the kitchen, it only takes a moment of carelessness for an accident to occur. Injuries and possible food poisoning are less likely if you follow these wise tips.
1. Always wash your hands with soap and water before handling food.
This applies to everyone who works in the kitchen. Germs can be spread easily 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 soap for cleaning. With the kids, make it a game. Sing the alphabet song while washing your hands. Make it educational by counting down twenty seconds with your child while washing his hands. When your daughter can count to twenty by herself; count back from twenty to one.
2. Use a sturdy stool so your child can comfortably reach the counter.
Children love to help out, and your participation in the kitchen is vital to appreciating food. Buy a sturdy stool to avoid falls and injuries.
3. Never allow children to eat raw eggs.
Children love to lick the dough from the spoon when they make cookies. But salmonella from raw eggs is a real concern. Explain that it is best 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 alert when a young child is near hot surfaces. So many accidents can be prevented. Boiling water burns and hot ovens are two of them. Keep cords to kitchen appliances out of harm’s way. Always have a fire extinguisher in your kitchen. To put out small fires, pour baking soda on flames. If the fat in a skillet starts to burn, cover it to cut off the oxygen supply. Put out the fire.
5. Point the handles of the pots and pans toward the back or center of the stove.
This is such an easy habit to start. This simple step prevents animated children (and adults) from coming into contact with a handle sticking out of the stove and spilling its boiling contents. Even though my kids are adults, I keep pointing the handles towards the back or center of the stove. Just so I don’t accidentally get burned!
6. Keep kitchen work surfaces clean.
Many times, the “flu” that runs through your family is actually food poisoning. You can negate this by thoroughly washing kitchen surfaces. Use surface cleaners with bleach to disinfect countertops and other work areas. Or add a half teaspoon of bleach to a water-filled spray bottle and spray on countertops to sanitize. Keep purses and other items off prep surfaces as they contain bacteria. Make sure to sanitize kitchen faucet handles as well when scrubbing the sink.
7. Avoid cross contamination of food.
Never put cooked meat on a plate that once contained raw meat. Wash knives and cutting boards between meat, dairy, and fruits and vegetables.
8. Wash dish towels and replace sponges frequently.
Buy seven tea towels. That way you will have a clean towel for each day of the week. A sponge cake is a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Squeeze to dry after use and allow to air dry. Replace sponges once a week. During the week, sanitize your sponge by rinsing it, wringing it dry, and then simmering it for two minutes in the microwave.
9. Always wash fruits and vegetables.
Wash vegetables and fruits before placing them in the refrigerator. In this way, they have been previously cleaned to facilitate the preparation of meals. Kids can have a healthy snack without worrying about harmful bacteria lurking on the surface. Also, bacteria in food multiply rapidly when left between 45 F and 140 F. Avoid this danger zone as much as possible by quickly refrigerating cooked foods. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers immediately after dinner to prevent bacteria from growing in the food.
10. Be careful with knives.
Sharp objects are obviously a danger to young children. Keep all knives out of the reach of children. Toddlers and preschoolers love to spread soft butter, cream cheese, and nut butters. Small hands can safely use plastic utensils, such as those bought for picnics and barbecues.