By our CHEF for a Day Program Manager, Tracey Roberts
My own teenage children make fun of me because I still say this to them every single time I see them using a kitchen knife. I’ve loved my 3+ years here at PB&J and often wish I’d started my work here earlier in my kids’ lives. I’d love to say that I always cooked with my own kids from an early age, but I’d be fibbing. I would try here and there, but I wasn’t consistent with it. I now realize that I really missed out on an opportunity. I’m not just talking about the opportunity to teach them something.
I’m still missing out today that I don’t have two trained assistants working with me as I prepare dinner each night. They are teens. They should be cooking dinner for ME at this point! My mom was the best of the best, but she never had me cook with her. Now that she’s gone, I really treasure the few memories of making cookies together and the Thanksgiving she was too ill to cook the meal herself and coached me from her wheelchair to prepare all the family favorites. Long story short, COOK WITH YOUR KIDS!! It strengthens math and science skills, has them practicing reading and following directions, and, most importantly, makes treasured memories.
Here in the PB&J kitchen, we safety teach kids how to use knives every day. In our CHEF Kids after-school classes, we start third graders off with paring knives. Before they ever have a knife in hand, they learn how you walk with the knife down by your side so as to never have it pointed out. At PB&J, we do a lot of things the same way the staff do them in your favorite restaurant’s busy kitchen.
We teach our students to use “THE CLAW” (always said with appropriate scary voice) just like professional chefs in order to keep their fingertips safe. We watch the way they are holding the knife to give them tips on how each knife is meant to be used differently (ex. paring knife vs. chef’s knife). In our CHEF for a Day field trip pr0gram, we have younger students in the PB&J space preparing simple foods. In these classes, we start off with regular table knives. Even though these knives are not sharp at all, we pretend as if they are “the sharpest knives ever made” in order to practice how we treat a knife in a restaurant kitchen.
Start your own child out early with a table knife. As parents, we tend to cut things up for our kids (because it’s so much faster), but it’s a great chance to work on the motor skills kids are using in their use (or attempted use) of a knife to cut a food. Start off with soft foods like Jello or even mashed potatoes. It’s just for practice. Try to imagine your child cutting up his/her own pancake while you get to take a bite of a warm pancake for the first time in years! Hahaha. By 8-9 years old, kids usually have the fine motor skills to start learning how to use a small kitchen knife like a paring knife (with adult supervision, of course).
Again, don’t start off with a tough flank steak. You can’t tell me that peeling and slicing up a banana isn’t a fun way to start the day. 😊 Celery is also great for cutting practice, and you can use it in a soup that night for dinner. The most important thing is to get your kids in there with you in the kitchen. I’m telling you. Learn from my mistakes! Train your kitchen assistants young! While they think it’s fun instead of work! -Tracey Roberts, mom to Jack(13) and Lucy(15)