"Nonna, can I please wash the dishes?" pleaded Ally, my eight-year-old granddaughter. Ally is like most kids, she loves to help in the kitchen. Although she's eager to wash dishes, I'll guarantee, that in four or five years the sight of dirty dishes won't be so exciting. Today, helping to wash dishes is fun, as she's learning how things work. She's learning to appreciate whole foods and what makes a nutritious meal by helping in the kitchen.
Involving kids with meal preparation gives them an opportunity to have multi-sensory experiences with various foods. This is especially valuable when introducing new food items or when changing the family's diet from processed foods to whole foods. In fact, multi-sensory learning is foundational when transforming a picky eater to a healthy eater.
So how do you avoid common kitchen hazards, especially for children? As valuable as tactile experiences are for appreciation of nutritious foods, when children are helping you in the kitchen, it takes only one unguarded moment for an accident to occur. Injuries and potential food poisoning are less likely if you adhere to the following sage advice.
1. Always wash hands with soap and water before handling food.
This applies to everyone working in the kitchen. Germs can spread easily if hands aren't properly cleaned. Wash hands with soap and water for at least twenty seconds. Rubbing the hands together under water is as important as the soap is for cleanliness. With kids, make a game of it. Sing the alphabet song while washing hands. Make it educational by counting off the twenty seconds with your child while washing her hands. When your youngster can count to twenty by herself; count backwards from twenty to one.
2. Use a sturdy step stool for your child to comfortably reach the counter.
Children love to help and their involvement in the kitchen is vital for food appreciation. Purchase a sturdy step stool to prevent falls and injuries.
3. Never allow children to eat uncooked eggs.
Kids love to lick the batter off the spoon when making cookies. But salmonella from uncooked eggs is a real concern. Explain that it's better to taste the cookie after it's baked, so you won't get sick.
4. Caution kids about the hazard of a hot stove and oven.
Always be alert when a small child is around hot surfaces. So many accidents are preventable. Burns from scalding water and hot ovens are two of them. Keep cords to cooking appliances out of harms way. Always keep a fire extinguisher in your kitchen. To extinguish small fires, throw baking soda over flames. If grease in a pan begins to flame, cover the pan to cut off the oxygen supply. Turn off the heat.
5. Point pot and pan handles toward the back or center of the stove.
This is such an easy habit to start. This simple step prevents lively children (and adults) from coming in contact with a handle sticking out from the stove and spilling its scalding contents. Even though my kids are grown, I still point handles to the back or center of the stove. Just so I won't accidentally burn myself!
6. Keep kitchen work surfaces clean.
Many times the "flu" that goes 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 spray bottle filled with water and spray on countertops to disinfect. Keep purses and other items off prep surfaces as they carry bacteria. Make sure you also disinfect kitchen faucet handles when you scour the sink.
7. Avoid cross contamination of foods.
Never put cooked meat on a plate which once held the uncooked meat. Wash knives and cutting boards between use on meat, dairy, and produce.
8. Wash dish towels and replace sponges often.
Purchase seven dish towels. That way you'll have a clean towel for each day of the week. A sponge is perfect breading grounds for bacteria. Squeeze dry after use and allow to air dry. Replace sponges once a week. During the week, disinfect your sponge by rinsing it, squeeze dry, then nuke it for two minutes in your microwave.
9. Always wash fruit and vegetables.
Wash vegetables and fruit before placing them in the refrigerator. That way they've been pre-cleaned making meal prep easier. The kids can grab a healthful snack without worry of harmful bacteria lurking on the surface. Also, Bacteria on food rapidly multiplies, when left at a temperature 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 forming in the food.
10. Take precaution with knives.
Obviously, sharp objects are a hazard for small children. Keep all knives out of reach of children. Toddlers and preschoolers love to spread softened butter, cream cheese, and nut butters. Small hands can safely use plasticware, the kind purchased for picnics and barbecues.