Kids in the Kitchen: Staying Safe

Kids in the KitchenMost kids love to be with Mom and Dad in the kitchen, helping to prepare a snack or a full meal. In addition to teaching kids basic cooking skills, there are other important protocols to share with your kids while working with them in the kitchen. As they take on more responsibilities during meal preparation, you can share more sophisticated food safety tips with them.

Julie Negrin, M.S., a certified nutritionist and the author of Easy Meals to Cook with Kids and the forthcoming How to Teach Cooking to Kids, shares suggestions on how to teach kids safety and hygiene in the kitchen.

Hygiene protects everyone

“I’m extremely strict about hand-washing,” Negrin says. “All of my students, even the toddlers, must hit the sink before working with food. I show them how to use warm water and soap, scrub well, and dry their hands in order to prevent spreading germs.”

The ideal amount of time for hand washing is at least 20 seconds, she says. The Mayo Clinic agrees. In fact, on their site they say hand washing—before and after food preparation–is an easy way to prevent infection. While hand sanitizers are good for when you’re in a pinch in public, Negrin says it’s best to teach children to wash their hands in the sink–with soap and water–when they’re cooking.

How to wash your hands

It's important to wash your hands when cooking at CHEFScatalog.comThe Mayo Clinic suggests these simple steps:

  1. Wet your hands with running water.
  2. Apply liquid, bar, or powdered soap.
  3. Lather well.
  4. Rub your hands vigorously for at least 20 seconds—or as long as it takes to sing the Happy Birthday song twice. (Remember to scrub all surfaces, including the backs of your hands, wrists, between your fingers, and under your fingernails.)
  5. Rinse well.
  6. Dry your hands with a clean or disposable towel or air dryer.
  7. If possible, use your towel to turn off the faucet.

Keep in mind that antibacterial soap is no more effective at killing germs than is regular soap, staff at the clinic say. Using antibacterial soap may even lead to the development of bacteria that are resistant to the product’ antimicrobial agents—making it harder to kill these germs in the future.

Cross-contamination concerns

Negrin also teaches her students to be conscientiously careful about prepping vegetables on the same cutting board or with the same knife as they prepped meat, chicken, or fish. “It’s important to use a clean plastic or glass cutting board and never cut animal products and then use the same knife or board to cut fruit or vegetables.”

Instead, the knife and the board should be cleaned with hot soapy water, or in a dishwasher, and air dried. It is also wise to consider changing out your wood or plastic cutting boards occasionally, since repeated use will create scratches and grooves that encourage the growth of bacteria. Also, be aware that glass cutting boards can dull your sharp implements.

Finally, just as you would wash the knives and cutting boards before switching tasks, so should children who were handling meat, chicken, or fish, wash their hands before going on to the next task.

Avoid burns in the kitchen at CHEFScatalog.comKeep your cool around heat

Another thing to be aware of in the kitchen are the various sources of heat. Particularly with a glass top electric stove that can stay warm long past the time it’s turned off and the red glow has disappeared.

Negrin takes an age-based stand on heat dangers. “I don’t allow children to open the oven or work at the stove by themselves unless they are 10 or older,” she says. “I also don’t allow children under the age of 10 to work with electrical appliances unless an adult is overseeing the project.” She even suggests that all electrical appliances stay unplugged when not in use.

Knife safety

As we mentioned earlier, sharp edges are among the things to watch for as you cook with your children. But, Negrin says, the key is not to forbid kids from using them, but to teach them the proper usage—under close supervision. If you allow your children to use sharp knives, teach them to always point the blade away from themselves when carrying the knife and to keep their fingers away from the blade when chopping.

For many tasks, smaller children may not need to use a sharp knife, Negrin says. “Small children, as young as two years old, can use plastic knives, metal butter knives, and lettuce cutters with close supervision. They are sharp enough to chop most produce (except vegetables such as onions, carrots, and potatoes) but dull enough that they can’t cause any serious accidents.”

She suggests it’s often a cheese grater or vegetable peeler that causes the most problems, so keep a close watch on those little fingers!

In case of emergencies

It’s a good idea to store a fire extinguisher in a spot older children can reach and teach them how to use it. Remind your kids what to do if there is a fire: they should not throw water on it but, rather, they should find an adult who can cut off its oxygen supply (like putting a lid on a pot or keeping the oven shut). All children should be taught how to call 9-1-1 in case of an emergency.

Recipes from Julie Negrin

Make-Ahead Vanilla Orange French Toast

This can be made the night before you serve it. It doesn’t get any easier than that!

French Toast at CHEFScatalog.comIngredients

  • 2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • 12 thick slightly stale bread slices (brioche or challah bread are good choices)
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Zest of half an orange (after zesting, slice up orange to serve as a side dish)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Powdered sugar, pecans, and berries for garnish

Cooking instructions

Spread butter over bottom of large baking pan with 1-inch-high sides. Arrange bread slices in one layer across pan.

Beat eggs, milk, syrup, vanilla, orange juice, zest, and salt in large bowl. Pour mixture over bread so that each piece is covered. Turn bread slices to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 400 F. (Or, you can pan-fry it the traditional way.) Bake bread for 10 minutes. Turn bread over and continue baking until just golden, about 4 minutes longer. Transfer cooked toast to plates and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Serve immediately with all-natural maple syrup and pecans and berries.

Preparation time: 20 minutes (not including marinating time)

Serves: 4

Recipe by Julie Negrin © 2008

Borecas (Potato and Cheese Filled Pastries)

In Sephardic households, borecas are like gold. They take a couple of hours to prepare so whenever someone takes the time to bake them, they disappear quickly. Sephardic families from different areas of the world have their own versions—some use different cheeses, some add spinach in their filling, and many use filo dough. This dough is very easy to make but you have to prepare it right before you use it—it does not keep well—and you can’t alter it or double it.

“Sephardi” means Spanish in Hebrew. A quick explanation is that Sephardic Jews originally hailed from Spain but were booted out during the Inquisition and moved to different locations all over the world. My maternal great-grandparents’ families landed in Greece and Turkey.

Many recipes refer to borecas with a “k” as in “borekas.” For some reason, my Grandma wrote it as “borecas” on the 1960′s recipe index card that our family still uses today – so that’s why you see me spelling it that way.



  • Making Borecas at CHEFScatalog.com2 cups russet potatoes, mashed (around 1 pound of raw potatoes)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 beaten eggs
  • 2 cups Parmesan cheese, grated
  • ½ cup feta (or any other strong-flavored cheese—my aunt likes Kashkaval)


  • 4 ½ cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 egg for brushing


  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

Cooking instructions

Filling: Thoroughly scrub potatoes with vegetable brush and water. Cut in half and add to a large pot. Add enough water so that potatoes are fully submerged. Cover pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium so that a soft boil will continue until potatoes are soft (about 40 minutes). To test softness, poke a fork; they should be soft all the way through. Place potatoes in a strainer and cool.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Peel potatoes (discard skin) and place in a medium bowl. Mash by hand until smooth. Measure out 2 cups. Add salt, olive oil, eggs, and cheeses. Set aside (or store in refrigerator in sealed container for up to 2 days).

Dough: In a large mixing bowl, mix together flour and salt. Push flour to the side to create a crater in the middle and add canola and water. Thoroughly mix together until moist. Knead gently to combine into a dough consistency.

Rolling: Prepare flat area for rolling borecas. Roll a small amount of dough into a ball (the size of a strawberry) and roll out with a rolling pin, smooth glass or your fingers. Make sure that the dough is thin, otherwise it will get too thick in the oven.

Scoop a small amount of filling into the middle of each dough circle. Fold over into a half-moon shape.

Pinch edges together and press fork on the edge to decorate and ensure full closure.

Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or is lightly oiled. Lightly brush each boreca with extra beaten egg. Sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown around the edges.

Sometimes, I’ll make a bunch of filling and then keep making the dough, one batch at a time, until I run out of filling.

*If you’re worried this looks too hard, note that these pictures were taken in my cooking class where my students were making them for the first time!

Preparation and baking time: 1 ½ hours

Serves: 8 to 10

Recipe adapted by Julie Negrin from Sephardic Cooking, Sephardic Biker Holim Ladies Auxiliary of Seattle © 1960s (exact year unknown)

Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries

Dipping food into melted chocolate is always an exciting activity! When making this recipe with kids, make sure that you keep the chocolate cool enough for their little fingers to touch but not so cold that it hardens.

Chocolate Covered Strawberries at CHEFScatalog.comIngredients

  • 30 medium-sized strawberries
  • 6 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter or non-hydrogenated margarine
  • 1 tablespoon corn syrup

Cooking instructions for kids (2 and up):

Wash and dry the strawberries. Make sure that the berries are completely dry or the chocolate will not stick to them. Line a baking sheet with waxed paper.

Cooking instructions for adults: In the top of a double boiler that you’ve set over simmering water, stir the chocolate, butter, and corn syrup until the chocolate melts and the mixture is smooth. Remove the chocolate from the heat but leave the water simmering in case the chocolate starts to harden and you need to re-heat it. If you’re worried about small kids touching a still-warm pan, you can transfer the chocolate to a cool dish.

Cooking instructions for kids (2 and up): Hold each strawberry by its stem and dip it ¾ of the way into the chocolate. Swirl it and shake off excess chocolate. Place the chocolate-dipped strawberry on the baking sheet lined with waxed paper and repeat with the rest of the strawberries. They can harden in the refrigerator or at room temperature.

Cooking tips
  • It’s best if the strawberries are at room temperature rather than cold.
  • If you don’t have a double boiler (which is necessary since the chocolate will burn if put directly over heat), simply place a metal bowl on top of a saucepan or put a small saucepan inside another larger saucepan. Alternatively, you can microwave the chocolate, butter, and corn syrup in a microwave-safe bowl in 30-second intervals until it is melted.
  • “Simmering” means a few small bubbles are barely breaking the surface.
  • This recipe can be prepared up to 1-2 days before serving—just store the strawberries in the refrigerator and remove 30 minutes before serving.
Kid tips
  • If your kids want to create designs, melt some white chocolate, dip a spoon in it, and swirl designs onto the chocolate-dipped strawberries. Or, they can dip the chocolate-dipped strawberries in sprinkles before the chocolate hardens.

Prep time: 20 minutes

Total time: 20 minutes (plus 1 hour for hardening)

Yield: 30 strawberries

Recipe from Easy Meals to Cook with Kids by Julie Negrin © 2010

Julie Negrin, M.S.Julie Negrin, M.S., has been a certified nutritionist, wellness expert, and program developer for more than 15 years. She designs and executes customized, client-specific wellness and educational programs, gives nutrition and culinary presentations, leads training sessions and teaches online e-Courses for professionals. Julie’s work has been featured in newspapers, magazines, radio programs, CBS Nightly News with Katie Couric, and the Today Show. Visit her online at Julie’s photo by Jon Wasserman.


You want your kids to love the kitchen as much as you, but you’re not sure how to foster that love? Check out these blogs from CHEFS Mix:

Your turn: What other safety pointers would you give your children in the kitchen? Share them here so we can all take advantage of them.

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