parents become extremely fearful imagining their child using a 10-inch
chef's knife! Children under 8 years' motor skills are not reliable enough
to safely use such tools. But little ones can make quick work of soft
vegetables and even a whole head of broccoli using a mere table knife.
What's important to understand is that kids love to chop; it's repetitive
and a pile of chopped food gives them a great sense of accomplishment.
Children 8 years and older have more developed motor skills and can begin
to learn how to properly use a chef's knife. Professional knife techniques
take much of the fatigue out of these assignments and make quick work
of them as well. They also significantly increase the safety factor. Following
are my "Family Knife Safety Commandments" and some basic knife techniques
that are embellished to include parental participation as well as supervision.
Additionally, I've provided some recipes from my book Cooking
Time Is Family Time.
I chose recipes that require a lot of chopping and knife wielding to offer
plenty of opportunities to practice.
Family Knife Safety Commandments
1) The first and most important thing to remember in knife safety is not
what you do with the knife, but what you do with your other hand. That's
the one in danger of being cut. Always cut, chop, slice, dice with the
fingertips of your other hand curled down and around so only the flat
part of your knuckle is facing the blade. This then becomes a guide for
the top of the blade to work against. In this way, fingertips are safely
away from the blade and in no danger of being cut.
2) The second most important knife safety tip to remember is to keep your
knives sharp. When a knife is kept sharp evenly along the length of the
blade, it will cut quickly, efficiently and cleanly. If it is not sharp
enough, the blade will drag and that is how accidents can happen; the
knife can drag and slip and consequently cut fingers that have already
gone on to the next step because the knife was not supposed to be lagging
3) The third knife safety commandment involves the movement and storage
of knives in the kitchen. Sharp knives should be stored in a stand-up
type knife rack with the blades concealed. This is by far the safest type
of storage. When moving around the kitchen holding a knife or when handing
it to someone, the knifepoint should always be pointed towards the floor,
with the hand gripping the handle. This way, the blade and point are never
waved around in danger of injuring someone. Knives should never be left
in the sink. Their wooden handles will get wet and ruined and some small
hand may reach in, not see the knife and get hurt. Knives should be used,
and immediately washed, dried and then put away.
4) Always stay in the room and close by your child while they are working
with a knife. Even once you've all become accustomed to working together
and your older child has become quite competent with a chef's knife, you'll
want to keep your eye on their technique. Kids and adults alike tend to
forget and get lazy. That's when they forget to curl fingers or start
exerting more force out of rushing and over confidence and this can lead
to accidents. Keep an eye on the kids with knives, gently and supportively
admonishing their lack of 'form' and remind them that proper technique
is the safest way and you love them, so you want to make sure they don't
The slicing technique involves a gentle rocking motion. Practice with
a potato or apple, peeling it first and then cut it in half lengthwise.
Right-handed family members should hold the knife in their right hand.
With your left, hold down the item to be sliced as your curl your fingertips
under. Make sure kids really curl their fingertips under; this is very
important for safety. Next, hold the knife at a 45-degree angle and come
down swiftly through the potato on its extreme right end. Before coming
up again, be sure you continue to have a proper grip and slide the knife
down to the end of the blade near the handle, then gently rock back along
the blade to the tip of the knife. At this point, slowly adjust the knife
to come down again -- this is all one smooth movement -- slicing through
the potato once more at the desired width. (If you or the child is left-handed,
reverse the above instructions.)
All along, fingertips should continue to be tucked under and are firmly
holding the potato in place. As you make progress slicing, you must be
sure to continue to move you left fingertips away from the blade and at
the same time, inch the food towards the knife. The knife motion should
feel like one continuous movement and the blade never lifts off the cutting
board. Have the children practice the rocking motion with the knife on
the cutting board not cutting anything. If they are doing it correctly,
it should feel easy and relaxed. The knife should not be held too hard
or strenuously; the controlled rocking motion of the sharp blade should
be doing the real work -- not your muscles!
When you have your apple or potato sliced, you can now make uniform dices
very easily. Stack 2 slices of potato horizontally in front of you, now
slice through them to make 1/4" slices, keeping the pieces snugly together
with your left hand as well as you can. When it is completely sliced,
use your left hand to pivot the slices so they are now vertical, slice
again in 1/4" slices creating a checkerboard dice of 1/4" size. Continue
in this fashion until all the potato is diced. Place your diced potato
in a bowl and move on to your next
Check out other
recipes that bring the whole family together:
Cooking Time is Family Time: Cooking Together,
Eating Together, and Spending Time Together
by Lynn Fredericks, William Morrow & Co., August, 1999
COOKING TIME IS FAMILY TIME, Lynn Fredericks shows people how they
can improve the time they spend with kids by inviting them into
the kitchen to help prepare meals.
Included are 125 recipes emphasizing a variety of fresh, healthful
ingredients and strategies to get kids to gobble them down. Each
recipe offers directions that specify which steps are right for
younger kids and which are more challenging for their older siblings.