Inviting toddlers into the kitchen is a recipe for trouble—think nonstop spills—but there are some age appropriate tasks that kids can learn, which will help alleviate suppertime stress. Start with the basics: Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill—it can set them on a food safety path for the rest of their lifetime.
Before kids help in the kitchen, be sure they know when and how to wash their hands. Everyone should wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. To remember how long 20 seconds lasts, kids should sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice.
Be sure your kids (and the adults) wash their hands:
- Before, during, and after preparing food
- Before eating food
- Before and after caring for someone who is sick
- Before and after treating a cut or wound
- After using the toilet
- After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
- After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
- After handling pet food or pet treats
- After touching garbage
With the proper supervision, children can also be a part of the ‘bubble patrol’ or cleaning crew. Using safe non-toxic cleaning supplies like soap and water, kids can help parents clean as they go by monitoring dirty countertops, sink areas and dishes.
When considering whether kids should get involved with food preparation, parents should take extra precautions with raw meats. Raw meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood should be kept away from foods that will not be cooked. Raw meats can contain harmful germs that can lead to foodborne illnesses. By starting kids off with fruit and veggie washing detail and giving them the responsibility of keeping these ingredients apart from raw meats, parents can reinforce the importance of preventing cross contamination. Give your child their own cutting board or bowl to hold the fruits and veggies. Doing so lets them be in control of one of the most important food safety steps, Separate.
Perhaps the safest way kids can learn about the importance of the cooking process is by teaching them about safe minimum internal temperatures and rest times for different types of meat, poultry, egg, and seafood dishes. Cooking these foods to the correct minimum internal temperature kills potentially harmful bacteria and can also help make sure they are not overcooked. Some meats need to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming to allow the internal temperature to continue to rise and destroy bacteria. The “Is it done yet” brochure and magnet connect kids and families with the most up-to-date safe cooking temperature information.
In the kitchen, kids can be tasked with monitoring the time that perishable foods have been in the danger zone. The danger zone is the range of temperature between 40°F and 140°F where bacteria multiply rapidly. Due to this rapid growth of bacteria, perishable foods should not be left out for more than two hours. (And if the temperature is 90˚F or higher outside, cut that time down to just one hour!) During meal prep, parents should identify the potentially hazardous foods while kids enforce the 2-hour rule. After the meal, kids can then be in charge of putting leftovers in the fridge or freezer. Another great learning point is explaining to kids the difference between storing foods in the fridge and freezer. Most foods can be safely stored in the freezer for a long time. In the refrigerator, leftovers with meat, fish, poultry, or egg only stay safe for three to four days.
Introducing kids to the basics of food safety and giving them some hands-on experience will give them kitchen confidence. Food safety doesn’t have to be a job exclusively for grown-ups. With FoodSafety.gov resources, kitchen confidence can help spring your family forward.