In the past couple of years, two Serious Eats team members have had new additions to their family. And as we’ve welcomed these little nuggets into our community, we've been thinking a lot more about how to instill a passion for food and cooking in them at a young age. From culinary toys for tiny tots to kid-safe knives, there are so many tools out there to get children of all ages into the kitchen.
Before we get to the goods, we want to say that there are a lot of philosophies about parenting out there. (Understatement of the century, we know.) This post is not meant to tell you how you should be raising your kids, what you should be teaching them, or when. You know better than anyone else what they're ready to take on, and your comfort about their safety is paramount.
This is simply a guide built on our own experiences, and our hope is you'll find it a useful and informative jumping off point for enjoying time in the kitchen with your family.
For the Tiniest Tots
A Helper Stool
“By far the best thing we have for her is her helper stool, which is like a step stool with a little fence around the top so she can get at counter height on her own without the danger of falling,” says Kenji of his daughter Alicia. While Kenji built his own, you can grab one ready-made, like this learning tower.
A Food Play Set
Set your kiddo up with their own helper stool, then arm the with a small cutting board and wooden knife from Melissa and Doug. The set comes with a not-sharp-in-the-slightest knife, a cutting board, and eight pieces of wooden food that can be “cut” into 27 sections.
Their Very Own Play Kitchen
While you’re in the ktichen, your tiny tot may also want to work the line in their own wooden play kitchen, so they can cook right alongside you, but at a safe distance from heat and splatters.
For Kids Ages 3-5
To get some recommendations for kids moving out of the toddler phase, we reached out to Jessi Walter Brelsford, founder of Taste Buds Kitchen, a national culinary events company that teaches kids how to cook (adults can also learn with the organization's very fun nighttime BYOB sessions).
Tiny Pinch Bowls
To introduce kids to the idea of mise en place, Jessi recommends silicone pinch bowls. "These are great for using all the senses," Jessi says. "They’re easy to grip, hold, and squish; they’re colorful, microwavable, machine washable, and stackable for easy storage.” You can put all sorts of ingredients into these pinch bowls, so kids can touch, smell, (and hopefully cook with!) them. You may sense a theme here—and that theme is colorful and easy-to-clean.
Their Own Rolling Pin
Jessi also loves these mini rolling pins. They’ll help children develop motor skills and are useful for all sorts of recipes—like pizza, pie dough, cookies, and fondant.
An Easy-to-Grip Cookie Scoop
When it comes time to form cookies, Jessi uses this cookie scoop by OXO. It comes in multiple sizes with an easy-to-grip handle that kids will love to use for scooping up all sorts of dough.
A Fruit-Themed Cutting Board
“You can get kids excited for knife skills with these fruit-themed cutting boards,” Jessi says, and she points out that because of their non-slip edges, it’s simple for kids to focus on knife safety (even if the knives don’t exactly have blades yet).
A Kid-Safe Plastic Knife
Speaking of knives, Jessi uses these plastic knives from Curious Chef. “They’re safe for kids with a plastic serrated edge that can cut most foods.” They’re also dishwasher-safe.
A Handy Hand Mixer
Cara Buffalino-Silman, founder of FreshMade Cooking Studio is also a fan of the Curious Chef tools for kids. “We recently discovered the Curious Chef hand mixer and our teachers and students love it," Cara says. "It’s the perfect size for small hands to help with mixing up batters, dressings, and more.” You also won’t need to worry about finding a spare outlet, since this mixer is manually operated and requires no electricity. While the Curious Chef hand mixer has been discontinued, the OXO egg beater is similar in design.
Yet another Curious Chef fan is our former senior editor Sasha Marx, who did a ton of testing on the best kids' tools while working at Cook's Illustrated. He recommends Curious Chef oven mitts, which are designed with little hands in mind (we can only currently find them in a set with an oven mitt and chef's hat).
A Creative Cookbook
Keeping kids inspired can and should go beyond the kitchen, too. The Sesame Street cookbooks are sure to be hit and feature, ahem, recipes from chefs Cookie Monster, Elmo, and more.
For Budding Cooks Ages 5+
Gloves (for Safety!)
As your little cooks get a bit older, you can start to introduce some real-deal kitchen equipment. Jessi and Cara both have plenty of ideas about how to get your kids really cooking with safety as a top priority. Jessi suggests getting a set of small cut-resistant gloves to keep novice hands clear of any blades.
When it comes to a knife set, Jessi likes this one by Opinel. “Thanks to the rings attached to the knife and peeler, kids can learn how to hold and use the tools properly while protecting themselves from any sharp edges.”
Daniel Gritzer, senior culinary director, recently bought this Mac 5” Kid’s Knife and Opinel Finger Guard for his five-year-old son Adrian. “To graduate him from his serrated plastic knives to a real sharp metal one that's designed for kids,” Daniel says. “Plus the finger guard to promote good claw grip in the other hand while keeping his fingers safer.”
A Kid-Sized Pair of Scissors
As for scissors, we’ve written extensively about why shears are so important in the kitchen, and they're just as important a tool for kids as they are for adults. Cara recommends scissors for your little ones. "A kid-sized pair of scissors in the kitchen can help kids with so many tasks," she says, "like cutting up herbs, tender greens, string beans, and more. "
For Kids 8+
A Colorful, Real-Deal Knife
As your kids get even older, you can start to cut down on the blunt-tipped tools in your kitchen and go for grownup ones. We spoke with Chef Tracy Wilk, an instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education, for some tips. She specializes in kid’s cooking classes, and when kids come to her class, she uses a variety of tools, but finds Kuhn Rikon paring knives to be a great size for kids. “I love that the color will make it a special item for your young chef." Save us a pink one, please!
Mise en Place Helpers
Along with Jessi from Taste Buds, Chef Wilk also appreciates the value of good mise en place. “Working cleanly and organized will make you a better chef, so I always have students start a recipe by reviewing, gathering necessary equipment, and chopping and measuring everything they need before starting.” She uses these little stoneware bowls to measure spices, nuts, salt, and more before beginning the cooking process. Wilk also notes, “Teaching the kids to work organized is a great life skill, not just a kitchen hack!" We have lots of Serious Eats parents who’d agree with that one.
Kid-Friendly Tools Already In Your Kitchen
When we spoke with Cricket Azima, the founder of kid's culinary school Creative Kitchen, she told us that you shouldn't have to shell out a ton of money to get your kids in the kitchen. In her classes, she focuses on inclusion, using affordable tools that are cheap to purchase or that parents will already have on hand, like plastic knives and paper plates. Sure, plastic knives can be a little wasteful, but they will give your children the opportunity to safely cut stuff next to you in the kitchen. And while we absolutely stand by our recommendations for kid-friendly tools, there are plenty of things that you may already own that are great for kids of all ages to enjoy.
Safe Prep Tools
In a similar vein, Cara says both a salad spinner and a food chopper make great tools for budding cooks. "Throw some rinsed greens or herbs in the salad spinner and let your kid spin away. They love it and it can keep them busy while you prepare the rest of the meal." As for the food chopper, it keeps the blade safely tucked away from kids, so they can be involved in making sauces and purées without getting nicked.
Aim for Accuracy
Over at ICE, Chef Wilk recommends teaching kids how to use an instant-read thermometer nice and early. We can't help but agree with that, since, as you know, we use ours for all sorts of tasks. She uses the Javelin, which was a favorite in our review, though we also recommend the ThermoPop for its price and accuracy.
A Pretty Adorable Cheese Grater
Jessi is also down to put kids to work with grownup tools. "Let kids learn how to shred with a kid-friendly box grater," she recommends. Once they've mastered the grater, she suggests a Microplane. "This is good for refining motor skills...use this to taste different zests or sample cheese. You can even practice the pinch and hold method with fresh nutmeg." As always, be careful with little hands and fingers. This might be a great situation for those protective gloves we mentioned before.
Cute Aprons Just Because
Why would you spend all this time getting your kid into the kitchen if you can't photograph them in an absolutely adorable apron? Okay, fine, an apron is functional, too, keeping them clean and making them feel like real professionals. There are countless aprons across the internet, but we're partial to these teddy bear–themed ones. You can even get a matching set.
We also like this dinosaur apron and a slightly pricey apron from real-deal apron company Hedley and Bennett. Or, if your kid is a burgeoning fashionista, Tilit has some adorable ombre aprons. Our biggest piece of advice? Just make sure whatever you buy is machine-washable (frankly, this advice applies to all aprons).
A Note on Safety
Now we know we said we weren't going to talk too much philosophy, but we sat down with Daniel to get his chef-parent insight on safety. Sure, mistakes happen in the kitchen, but they should be exceptions and not the rule. Instilling a love of cooking in your child means making sure that they don't hurt themselves. And with that, here are some of Daniel's hard and fast rules for running a safe, functional, and fun kitchen.
- Turn pot handles inwards (away from the cook).
- Store knives safely so that kids can’t get to them easily.
- Be aware of what surfaces and cooking equipment are hot to the touch and keep children away.
- Set knives down a safe distance from the counter’s edge and on a flat and stable surface.
- Find your kids a safe space. Don't allow them to be underfoot while you're cooking.
- If in doubt, don't. Cooking is fun and we all want kids to enjoy it, too, but it's not worth taking unnecessary risks. There's a lifetime ahead for them to learn their way around the kitchen.
What do you buy a kid that loves cooking?
This depends on their age! The above guide is sorted by age group, to help you decide what gear will be safest for them to use. (And fun! Don't forget fun!)